A UK study suggests that the drinking guidelines derived from epidemiological data lack relevance for adult drinkers who moderate their alcohol intake according to their own knowledge and risk perceptions resulting from their own experience.
This qualitative study explored how the concept of lay epidemiology (*) could enhance the understanding of how drinkers respond to current UK drinking guidelines. In general, current drinking guidelines are perceived as having little relevance to participants’ drinking behavior and were generally disregarded for three primary reasons: daily guidelines were considered as irrelevant by those with drinking patterns that comprised heavy weekend drinking. The amounts given in the guidelines were seen as unrealistic for those motivated to drink for intoxication, and participants measured alcohol intake in numbers of drinks or containers rather than units. Participants reported moderating their drinking, but this was out of a desire to fulfil work and family responsibilities, rather than out of concerns for their own health.
Guidelines were thus not considered as useful by drinkers and awareness of drinking guidelines does not necessarily lead to reductions in risky drinking behaviours. Drinking above the guidelines is therefore not perceived as a risky behavior. The authors suggest that insights from lay epidemiology into how drinkers regulate and monitor their drinking should be used in the construction of drinking guidelines to enhance their credibility and efficacy.
M Lovatt, D Eadie, PS Meier, J Li, L Bauld, G Hastings; J Holmes, Lay epidemiology and the interpretation of low risk drinking guidelines by adults in the United Kingdom, Addiction, published early online 25 July 2015.
For more information about this article, read the scientific abstract here.
(*) Lay epidemiology: compromises knowledge and beliefs about health and causation of disease which are constructed primarily from subjective experience, observation of family and social networks and media sources. This contrasts with standard epidemiology which claims an objective understanding of the causes of diseases based on statistical evidence.