An alcohol awareness charity estimates that Britons will be consuming at least 602 million units of alcohol over the festive period in December: they say the equivalent of 265 million pints, 602 million shots of vodka or 286 million glasses of mulled wine will be drunk at work Christmas parties and on Christmas day, with nearly half of consumers predicting they will be drinking more than the recommended daily unit guidelines.

These predictions are in a report released last week by UK-based alcohol awareness charity Drinkaware who commissioned market research specialists ICM to interview a random sample of over 2,000 adults aged 18+ between 27th and 29th November to ask them about their festive drinking habits.

The report suggests that:
  • 1 in 7, or 14 per cent of adults in Britain generally drink more than they intend to over Christmas.

  • 1 in 6, or 16 per cent, say that December is the one month of the year when they don't feel guilty when they drink.

  • More than 1 in 3, or 36 per cent will be attending three or more festive events this month.

  • More than half, or 53 per cent say they will be drinking alcohol at all or nearly all the Christmas parties they go to.

  • 54 per cent of men, and 41 per cent of women are expected to drink over the recommended daily guideline during the festive season.
The results of the survey, which was conducted across the country, were converted into unit equivalents by multiplying the average number of units people said they consumed at festive occasions in December by the average number of occasions attended and then extrapolating to the number of drinking age people in the wider population.

Chris Sorek, Chief Executive of Drinkaware, told the press that 602 million is likely to be an underestimate of how much alcohol Brits will be consuming over the festive season.

The charity is also conducting a live interactive survey to find out much alcohol people in Britain are likely to be drinking over the festive period; it has unveiled a seven square metre touch screen in London's Covent Garden that will link to a festive version of the unit calculator on the Drinkaware website.

This allows people to type in what they've had to drink over the last 24 hours, and compare it to what other Britons are drinking, and see how the calories they consume from alcohol compares against other foods eaten over the festive season.

There will be similar events in Glasgow, Leeds and Birmingham, making this the largest interactive assessment of the nation's drinking ever to take place.

Sorek said that:

"Conducting an experiment to find out what Britain is drinking this Christmas will encourage people to think about how much they've had to drink over the last 24 hours and help to educate them about units at the same time."

"For many people, December and the festive season is a time for getting together with loved ones and celebrating over a drink or two", or perhaps more said Sorek, and he urged people to take notice of their drinking:

"It might feel like party time, but it's still really important to keep track of how much you're drinking - the long term effects of drinking to excess can last for much longer than Christmas," warned Sorek.

The Drinkaware website will summarize the information gathered from the live screen in Covent Garden and other events across the country, and show a daily rolling average. Results from the survey, which will run for a month, are expected in early 2010. The live events like the interactive screen and other activities will last between five and seven days.

According to a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2004 that ranked 191 countries according to the amount of alcohol consumed per person over the age of 15 per year, the United Kingdom ranked 18th (with an annual consumption equivalent to 10.39 litres of pure alcohol per person) and the United States ranked 43rd (8.51 litres).

The top 4 were Uganda (19.5 litres), Luxembourg (17.5 litres), the Czech Republic (16.2 litres) and Ireland (14.5 litres).

One unit of pure alcohol is 10 ml or 1 centilitre. One pint of beer with 4 per cent alcohol is 2.27 units, one 175 ml glass of 12 per cent mulled wine is 2.1 units, and one 25 ml shot of 40 per cent vodka is 1 unit.

Thus the UK per capita annual consumption, as per the 2004 WHO figures, suggest that the average adult in the UK consumes around 1,039 units of alcohol a year, or 20 units a week, which is just under 3 a day.

According to NHS Choices, the UK Government's daily guideline is 2-3 units for women (none if you are pregnant) and 3-4 for men, but they qualify this with the statement: "there is no guaranteed safe level of drinking, but if you drink below a certain level the risks of harm are reduced".

The more a person drinks above the daily guideline, the greater his or her risk of developing serious health problems, including liver disease, cancer, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, heart disease, sexual and other problems.

Source: Drinkaware, WHO, NHS Information Centre, NHS Choices.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD