Safe Limits For Chronic Consumption

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These cannot be accurately defined. But both patients and nonpatients justifiably expect some guidance, and doctors and government departments will wish to be helpful. They may reasonably advise as a 'safe' or prudent maximum (there being no particular individual contraindication): men, not more than 21 units per week (and not more than 4 units in any one day), and women, 14 units per week (and not more than 3 units in any one day).33 Consistent drinking more than these amounts carries a progressive risk to health (see also Alcoholic drinks and mortality, below). In other societies recommended maxima are higher or lower.

33 Report of an Inter-Departmental Working Group, 1995 Sensible Drinking. Department of Health.

Alcoholics with established cirrhosis have usually consumed about 23 units (230 ml; 184 g) daily for 10 years. It has long been thought that total consumption accumulated over time was the crucial factor for cirrhosis. Heavy drinkers may develop hepatic cirrhosis at a rate of about 2% per annum. The type of drink (beer, wine, spirits) is not particularly relevant to the adverse health consequences.

A standard bottle of spirits (750 ml) contains 300 ml (240 g) of alcohol (i.e. 40% by volume). A standard human cannot metabolise more than about 170 g per day. People whose intake is concentrated at the weekend allow their livers time for repair and have a lower risk of liver injury than do those who consume the same total on an even daily basis.

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