While the British are often perceived as a nation of binge drinkers, new research from the UK’s University of Sheffield challenges this stereotype, after finding that almost half of British drinkers consume alcohol at home in moderate amounts.

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Almost half of British adults drink moderately at home, new research finds.

However, the study – published in the journal Addiction – shows that heavy drinking is still common in Britain, with around 10% of adults engaging in heavy drinking at home or at a bar.

The findings come from an analysis of the drinking habits of more than 60,000 British adults.

Study leader Dr. John Holmes, a senior research fellow at the University of Sheffield’s Alcohol Research Group, and colleagues conducted the study with the aim of gaining a better understanding of British drinking culture.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), each year, more than 3.3 million deaths worldwide occur as a result of harmful alcohol use, and it is a causal factor in more than 200 diseases and injuries.

“If we want to address problems associated with drinking, we need to recognize the diversity of how we drink and understand the crucial role that cultures and contexts play in that,” says Dr. Holmes.

To reach their findings, Dr. Holmes and colleagues analyzed 2009-2011 data of 60,215 adults aged 18 and older who were part of Kantar Worldpanel’s Alcovision study – an ongoing monthly online diary survey.

As part of the study, participants were required to keep a diary of their alcohol use habits over a 1-week period. Subjects were required to keep track of how much alcohol they consumed, as well as when, where and why they were drinking and who they were drinking with.

For this study, light drinking was defined as fewer than 6 units per week for women and 8 for men; moderate drinking was defined as 6-12 units for women and 8-16 units for men; heavy drinking was defined as more than 12 units for women and more than 16 units for men.

One unit was defined as around 8 g or 10 ml of pure alcohol. As an example, there is around 1 unit in a shot of spirits, while a 175 ml medium-strength glass of wine contains around 2 units.

Between 2009-2011, the researchers identified a total of 187,878 drinking occasions among the participants.

During this period, the researchers found that 46% of all drinking occasions involved light to moderate drinking that took place at home; 13.6% of occasions involved drinking at home alone, 12.8% involved light drinking at home with family, while 19.6% involved light drinking at home with a partner.

However, around 10% of all drinking occasions involved “pre-drinking,” the team found, defined as drinking at home before moving on to drinking at a bar. Typical alcohol consumption was around 14 units during such occasions, deemed as heavy alcohol use.

Furthermore, heavy drinking at home with a partner accounted for 9.4% of all drinking occasions, the team found.

“Young people do binge drink on big nights out, but we also see heavy drinking among middle-aged couples relaxing at home and among all ages at domestic get-togethers,” notes Dr. Holmes.

Drinking away from home was found to be significantly less common than at-home drinking; around 11% of drinking occasions involved going out with friends, while around 9% involved dining out with friends or family.

The researchers believe their findings challenge the popular notion that the British are a nation of binge drinkers. Dr. James Nicholls, director of research and policy development ay Alcohol Research UK – who funded the study – says:

The idea that there is a single British drinking culture is wrong. Drinking behaviors have changed enormously over time, and there are wide variations within society.

Rather than assuming society is neatly divided between ‘binge,’ ‘heavy’ or ‘moderate’ drinkers we should think about the occasions on which people drink more or less heavily – and the fact we may be moderate in some contexts, and less so in others.”

He adds that it is important to consider such information when identifying strategies to tackle drinking-related problems.

Last month, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that simply the smell of alcohol can interfere with behavior control.