Alcohol labels don’t measure up

How clear are you about the size of alcohol units if they don’t measure up in pints? What about alcopops? And surely I can drink more cider as it is not as strong as wine? I’m confused already.

Veronica Callanan also thinks the governmment’s plans about labelling alcohol is not workable. She says:

I have yet to meet anyone who counts there alcohol units, have you?

I mean, does anyone go out on a Friday night and think; “well I had 4 units on Wednesday and Monday so I can only have 4 tonight and the other 2 tomorrow lunchtime?.

Nobody does this.

The government drinking guidelines are that men can drink up to 21 units per week and women can drink 14 units per week, by the way these aren’t safe drinking levels (as there is no such thing) but low-risk drinking levels. These units need to spread over the week (not taken in one go) with at least 2 alcohol free days.

It was in the news today that alcohol manufacturers will start labelling bottles with how many units are in each bottle to help drinkers regulate how much they consume.

Don’t get me wrong anything that drinks manufacturers are willing to do to address our nations drink problem is a good thing, however there’s something here that doesn’t quiet add up. Alcohol is a mood and mind altering substance people don’t drink it because they like the taste (generally speaking who actually liked the taste when they first tasted alcohol?) we drink it primarily for the effects. And the effects are that they alter your perception slightly, loosen you up and make you feel differently so there is something bizarre about expecting people who drink this mood and mind altering substance to be able to regulate the amount they take in.

It changes how you feel, so before you drink it you may feel you only want two glasses of wine but after having those two glasses its not unlikely that you feel differently and may feel that another 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 glasses are a good idea.

It’s kind of like asking 5 year olds to regulate their candy intake all by themselves.

There’s something about alcohol that makes you want more of it no matter what your intentions were. I don’t really see how labelling bottles differently is going to change that, after all there are big labels on cigarette packets that scream “SMOKING KILLS? and thousands of people still die of smoking related illnesses every year. Well done to the drinks industry that they are doing something but they are going to have to go much further than that and take responsibility for the drinking culture they helped create. This is what needs to change.

There is a lot of money at stake here, the drinks industry is booming and the more alcohol that is sold the more taxes the government can rake in…………………is it any wonder that no one wants to regulate our alcohol intake too much?

I would be interested in your comments on this issue.


  1. Intresting comments, I think Lord Nazh has some intresting points, i admit my view of drinking is skewered by my expereince and my work. I forget that there are people out there who enjoy the taste of alcohol, drink moderatly with no adverse consequences – my apologies to you.

    I fully beleive in our rights to choose to drink if thats the case. However what does everyone think when they can’t get the services they want for their medical problem because NHS money is tied up in dealing with people who drink excessively?

    The NHS spends billions each year in dealing with and then we here people can’t get cancer drugs because their local PCT can’t afford it.

    Don’t you think we need to take our excessive drinking a little bit more seriously?

  2. Lord Nazh has it bang on.

    Nu Labour, Nu Fascist

  3. Jim:- I can drink a whole bottle in one sitting!.. So I am really over the weekly limit.

  4. 2 problems with her report:

    1) “by the way these aren’t safe drinking levels (as there is no such thing) but low-risk drinking levels” (emp. mine)

    I’d like to see the science she uses for this quote.

    2) “Alcohol is a mood and mind altering substance people don’t drink it because they like the taste (generally speaking who actually liked the taste when they first tasted alcohol?)”

    Most people that drink (but are not ‘new’ drinkers) do indeed drink for the taste, hence they have favorite drinks. If you are speaking of ‘drinkers’ why would you use the ‘first taste’ method to attempt to get your point across?

    These ‘guidelines’ are just another way for Mother Britain to make YOUR life a little less free.

  5. I remember in my mid twenties when I worked at Coopers & Lybrand (as they were then) how a crowd of us went drinking regularly after work. I always used to tip the lemon from the previous Gin and Tonic into the next so I knew how many I’d had by counting the slices. Hic!

  6. “There’s something about alcohol that makes you want more of it no matter what your intentions were. ”

    OK. How did I go to the pub and only have 2 pints on Saturday? Or how I can tell my boss that I really don’t want another as I’ve got a train to catch? Or how I’ve tasted some delicious champagne at a wine merchant and then left without buying anything?

    Some people can take the same things in moderation that consume others.

  7. Jim, thanks for your scientific explanation and breakdown. I still think it is really hard to follow, though instinctively some of us may have a better idea than others.

  8. Curmudgeon: There is 10ml (cc) – about two teaspoonfuls – of pure alcohol in a unit. A standard 125ml glass of 12% wine contains about 1.5 units, and about 9 units in a bottle. So according to best medical advice, a woman should drink no more than a bottle and a half of wine in a whole week.

  9. A number of responses: There’s some new research that suggests that one drink a day helps ward off Alzheimer’s. There’s research that red wine may ward off cancer.

    Certainly drinking too much can be harmful — but Jesus did not turn water into Gatorade at Cana.

    And even a 5-year old can figure out that too much candy will cause a stomach ache. I would hope that the “free” governments of the world would treat their citizens as something better than 5-year olds.

    I have no idea how many ounces there are in a “unit” but I would love to see Winston Churchill’s daily intake converted into units. I suspect the total would far eclipse the numbers recommended. And he seems to have done fairly well, although he did only live into his 90’s….

  10. Alcopops introduce people to alcoohol, giviing the idea there is hardl;y any in it.

  11. Ellee, sorry to be off topic, but if you can access this in an internet café they are known in Greece as Varvaki or Mavropetritis.

  12. lol Elle, I thought the kadies had no problem counting calories, now that is a mind-boggling set of figures, which most people cheat on, and still wonder why they are not losing weight

    If someone can’t remember how many pints or glasses of wine they had on Monday, maybe they’ve already had enough …

    Me I like a glass or red wine (or a half pint of beer) with my meal, but not every meal nor every day. I tend to avoid alcohol for breakfast – unless it’s a breakfast at Tiffany’s kind of ocassion.

  13. Well, I think a lot of people are aware of how many units they drink. I don’t think that stops them or makes them drink less, though. I think it’s a good move by the drinks industry – it’s clear and standard and people do have a choice in the matter of how much and whether, they drink. I take Steven L’s point about food being the next target, though. Already doctors are refusing to treat obese people for some conditions, I read.

  14. ‘It’s kind of like asking 5 year olds to regulate their candy intake all by themselves.’ (Veronica)

    So we’re all like 5 year olds that need regulating are we? Once they’ve started denying smokers NHS treatments and finished ‘regulating’ (read increasing tax for this) alcohol they’ll move onto food and fat people.

    The international medical establishment are becoming far too influencial over government policy. Anyone seem the movie ‘I, Robot’? where the Robots come to the conlusion that the only way to protect the humans is to place them under house arrest?

    At this rate, by 2025, there’ll be government sponsored adverts on TV asking you to grass up a fat person for eating bacon and eggs.

  15. Ian Lidster

    Bridget Jones counted her units, not that it did her all that much good. Wearing my addictions counsellor hat, I must agree with much of what was suggested in the blog, but it also distresses me that while the public will wail and fulminate about the evils of street drugs, we do so little (especially at the ‘official’ level, because so much revenue comes from booze) to address the massive toll that out of control drinking takes on society. The proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ without question.


  16. Would removing the Educational Maintenance Allowance for the children of low income families reduce binge drinking amongst that specific age group!?!

  17. I think my average alcohol consumption weekly is about thirty units.
    I do have at least two or three days where I probably won’t drink at all.
    I don’t get over worried about these things.

    I suspect the recommended tobacco consumption is nil, but I fail there too.

  18. As a matter of fact, I do happen to estimate my units of consumption, it’s easy when you know how (I used to teach it as part of a pharmacy degree). Ellee, the whole point of converting it to “units” is precisely so that you are able to make objective comparisons between your cider and your wine. Yes, you may drink a greater volume of cider if its strength is less than wine. It is the actual quantity of pure alcohol you consume, not how dilute (beer) or strong (whisky) it is. On the other hand I can’t claim that it alters my behaviour much and I agree that it’s not likely to impact much on binge-drinking. But the public seems to want labelling…

    > The government drinking guidelines are that…

    The guidelines are established by the medical profession of course, and implemented by “the government”.

    I would be interested to know what views Her Majesty’s Opposition has on this subject. Is it against labelling, do you know? Will it repeal it if/when it comes to power?

  19. From a psychology and communications perspective, the labels won’t make any difference. However, I would be interested in knowing about the actual content of the wine – as I gather some are much more chemically loaded than others, and then there’s the added sugar, which we aren’t told about.

    Culture and context are much more important influencers. Look at how glass sizes have increased – no-one is saying a unit is a glass of wine anymore, since a typical winebar glass is probably 3 units today.

    It has never been easier to buy alcohol, whether in the supermarket, petrol station, even with a garden centre lunch. The social scene seems to be to drink until you drop – making the “drink responsible” message from the industry seem very far removed from social responsibility.

    As with most things, we probably need better education in its widest sense. Not superficial labelling or prohibition. More a cultural shift that sees getting ridiculously drunk as unacceptable, and doesn’t parody those who prefer a non-alcoholic alternative.

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