'UK Chief Medical Officers’ Alcohol Guidelines Review'

At the request of the UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs), a group of experts were asked to evaluate evidence about the levels and types of harm to health that alcohol can cause.

The new guidelines made significant changes to the existing guidelines which were first published in 1995. The UK CMOs considered evidence from the expert group and agreed three new guidelines on:

  • regular (weekly) drinking
  • single episodes of drinking
  • pregnancy and drinking.

Regular drinking

The new guideline for regular drinking for both men and women suggested that:

'You are safest not to drink regularly more than 14 units per week, to keep health risks from drinking alcohol to a low level. If you do drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread this over 3 days or more.'

The previous guidelines were 21 units for men and 14 units for women per week. An additional recommendation was to spread drinking over a few days rather than save up units for a single drinking session.

Single episodes of drinking

The new guideline on single episodes of drinking suggested:

  • limiting the total amount of alcohol drunk on any occasion
  • drinking more slowly, drinking with food, and alternating alcoholic drinks with water
  • avoiding risky places and activities.

Pregnancy and drinking

The guideline for alcohol consumption during pregnancy also changed. Previously, pregnant women were advised to limit themselves to no more than one to two units of alcohol, once or twice a week. The new guidelines suggested that 'if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.'


The guidelines were generally well received, but the British Liver Trust stated that poor public understanding about the number of units of alcohol in different beverages meant that some aspects of the guidelines were unclear.


Department of Health.
UK Chief Medical Officers' Alcohol Guidelines Review; Summary of the proposed new guidelines.
Department of Health; 2016.

Department of Health and Social Care.
New alcohol guidelines show increased risk of cancer.
Department of Health and Social Care; 2016.

British Liver Trust.
Chief Medical Officer Issues New Alcohol Guidelines.
British Liver Trust: 2016.