Ah, New Year, a time for reflection, refocus, resolution. A time for getting fit, a time for… the neo-prohibitionists to go completely fucking apeshit, pouncing on the moment when many moderate drinkers prove they don’t have a drink problem by taking a few weeks off the sauce, and use it to ram fear and alarm down the nations throats as never before.
Danger! This much beer is ‘hazardous’!
Binge drinking on New Year’s Eve alone could cost the NHS £23 million. New Years Eve itself saw our cities burn to the ground in a drink-fuelled orgy of violence and people falling over on the snowy pavements. The rising cost of treating drinkers could cripple the NHS. And most worryingly of all, one in four Brits are now consuming alcohol at ‘hazardous levels’. That last one must be true: it says so in the Observer, and is sourced from a NHS report.
Let’s just take that last one, as it’s the most worrying. Check out the NHS report for their justification of this claim, and it refers you to a separate appendix. Here, the source of this claim is given as the National Audit Office Report, Reducing Alcohol Harm. This is actually a well-written and researched report for the most part, but it tells us that the definition of ‘hazardous’ is from the World Health Organisation, who define ‘hazardous’ as ‘exceeding government recommended limits’ in the country in question, whatever those limits might be, even though they vary from country to country.
To get to the figure of 25%, the NAO report has used the recommended safe daily guidelines – expressed as units – to get to their definition of what constitutes ‘government recommended limits’.
Let’s not even get started on the fact that these units are completely arbitrary. It’s the old trick: the government unit recommendations are guidelines for drinking safely. They have been interpreted as limits, over which drinking is hazardous. According to the OED, a guideline is a ‘general rule or principle’. A limit, in this context, is ‘a restriction on the size or amount of something permissible or possible’. They mean entirely different things – but they are wilfully conflated whenever people talk about alcohol. If you think they mean the same thing, consider this example.
I got my calculator out again. You calculate a ‘unit’ of alcohol by multiplying the volume of liquid (in ml) by its ABV, and dividing by 1000. The ‘guideline’ alcohol consumption for men is no more than four units per day.
Take Kronenbourg. 1 pint = 568ml x 5%/1000 = 2.84 units
1.5 pints = 852ml x 5%/1000 = 4.26 units
The guideline for women is 3 units per day. 1 x 175 ml glass of 12% wine is 2.1 units. 1 x 150ml glass is – quite conveniently – 3 units.
If you drink a pint and a half of Kronenbourg in one day – even if that’s half a pint with lunch and one pint in the evening – you are a ‘hazardous’ drinker. If you drink one large glass of wine that is stronger than 12%, you are a ‘hazardous’ drinker. According to the latest NHS report, you’re no different from an alky downing a bottle of cheap vodka every day.
Furthermore, the way this data is collected, the actual question is along the lines of ‘did you drink this much on one day during the last week’. If you say yes, you’re included in the figure. So you could have drunk alcohol on only one out of seven days and you still count as a hazardous drinker.
A large glass of 13% abv wine, a pint and a half of lager – or two pints of real ale – in one day, with six days abstinence? Congratulations, you’re still a hazardous drinker.
This is what the whole of the UK national media have accepted without question.