Interview with Dr. Creina Stockley

What does it mean: “low risk drinking guidelines”?

The term ‘low risk’ refers to a low risk of harm (short-term and long-term) to your health from consuming alcoholic beverages according to the recommendations in the guidelines.

Why is there such a difference in drinking guidelines between the various countries?

Differences in drinking guidelines between various countries, despite the same sources of scientific literature, suggests that setting upper limits is not an exact science and that different evidence is used as well as different outcomes with acute and chronic consequences. Also, scientific evidence is not the only factor used in guidelines as they also reflect a country’s culture, economics, government attitudes and the target population, where the overall message is that likely to be effective in changing behaviours.

How have the guidelines changed over the past 20 years?

There are three main changes to the guidelines when comparing current guidelines to those of 20 years ago, namely:

There has been a change in focus away from individual consumer factors and influences on blood alcohol concentration (BAC), such as age, body mass index, gender and associated effects, good and bad, on human health;
There has also been change in focus away from pattern of consumption compared to amount; and
There has been a change in focus towards risk of death over a lifetime, adding the risk of death from short-term harms together with that from longer-term harms, and the focus of long-term harms has also changed away from cardiovascular diseases towards cancers.

Are weekly guidelines preferable to daily guidelines to inform consumers?

Weekly guidelines are not preferable to daily as both the amount consumed per day as well as the pattern of consumption are important when considering blood alcohol concentrations and harms to human health. For example, the new UK weekly recommendation of no more than fourteen 8 g standard drinks per week (112 g/week) spread over three or more days, could see consumers drinking 37 g alcohol per day, when the nadir of the j-shaped shaped curve for risk of all-cause mortality from alcohol consumption is approx. 20 g alcohol per day, where risk may be increasing to significance for certain alcohol-related diseases and disorders at 37 g/day.

What is the idea of days of “alcohol free” days?

The original rationale for ‘alcohol free’ days was for consumers of alcoholic beverages to check whether they are becoming dependent on alcohol, that is, they depended on drink alcohol daily for their mental and physical health.

Are the drinking patterns reflected in the current drinking guidelines?

This depends on the country’s guideline. Yes for those countries which include amount per day recommendations as well as amount per week and even per occasional heavier drinking days such as Australia’s current drinking guidelines.

Do you see a need for lowering the upper limits of (moderate) drinking guidelines?

No, based on scientific evidence, there is no need to lower the upper limits of moderate drinking guidelines.

Would you recommend to use the politically correct guidelines or guidelines based on scientific evidence?

Any guideline should be based on scientific evidence.

Are the WiM guidelines still in line with the current scientific evidence?