Monday, March 9, 2009

A Little Of What You Fancy

The National Health and Medical Research Council on Friday released their new guidelines for the consumption of alcohol. The bad news for the many who enjoy a quiet drink or three is that the new guidelines are even more restrictive than the old ones. It is now recommended that adults drink no more than two standard drinks per day, regardless of whether they are men or women, and no more than four standard drinks on any single occasion. Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers are advised to drink no alcohol at all, and those under eighteen are also told to remain alcohol free.

It is claimed that these guidelines are based on the best available scientific evidence and are intended to prevent both long term and short term harm. The two drinks a day average is supposed to be the limit before people increase the risk of long term damage to their health, while the four drinks at a time limit addresses the short term harm of risky and antisocial behavior. In many respects the guidelines reflect a level of drinking which amount to what ought to be common sense, but at the same time they do represent a one size fits all approach.

Where once there was a distinction made between the effects of drinking on men and women, and on people of differing body mass, the new guidelines seem to suggest that such distinctions no longer matter. Many people might find this a little confusing, and perhaps even contrary to their own experience. After all, it’s widely accepted that different people have differing capacities for handling their drink. That may well be true, but that may also be part of the problem.

For some people there is a mistaken idea that they are somehow the exception to the rule, and that they are perfectly all right drinking more heavily because they have a strong constitution and they can “handle it”. Indeed, almost all the behavioural problems associated with alcohol could be said to stem from people’s misconceptions about their own limits and the effects that the alcohol has upon them. That may be why the Council has chosen to apply one set of guidelines across the board, but I’m sure there will still be people who say to themselves that the guidelines are an average and that they are somehow exempt. In fact, I suspect that some will see the guidelines as being so restrictive as to be irrelevant.

Of course, human beings are never going to be perfect machines of good behavior, and most of us recognize that life could get pretty boring if they were. The purpose of the guidelines is to give us an understanding of what’s risky and what’s relatively safe. It will always be true that some people should not dink at all, while others will be able to indulge their habit in moderation without getting into trouble. The truth is that even if the experts insist that a single glass of wine during a nine month pregnancy poses an unacceptable risk, life is full of much greater risks, and most people are going to look at these guidelines as exactly that: a guide.

They say a little of what you fancy does you good, and so long as it is just a little the chances are that you will stay out of trouble. That is of course unless you play Rugby League.

No comments: