Figures from the latest Global Drugs Survey have revealed that on average, UK adults are consuming at least twice the daily recommended alcohol levels to reach their desired state of intoxication

Responses from more than 60,000 participants, aged 16 – 80, from the UK, Europe and Brazil have been studied to compare the subjective effects of alcohol consumption.  

Data from the UK’s respondents revealed approximately 20% of adults reached their ‘tipping point’ – defined as feeling more drunk than intended – on a monthly basis.

Researchers analysing the data found that people often drink intending to feel the effects of alcohol along a spectrum of intoxication – from, ‘feeling the effects’, to ‘being as drunk as you would like to be’, to ‘reaching the tipping point’ also known as the danger zone or point of no return.

When asked how often within the past year respondents had reached these stages; 85% said they had felt the effects of alcohol at least once a month, 65% became as drunk as they wanted to, and 20% reached their tipping point every month.

In the UK, males who reached their tipping point consumed on average 32g more pure alcohol than the recommended maximum weekly level (112g) in one sitting

UK women on average drank 70% of the weekly recommended maximum, to get as drunk as they wanted to be in one sitting, while men drank 89% of the weekly max to reach this state.

Unsurprisingly, male drinkers needed significantly more alcohol than women to reach each stage of intoxication, and men under 25 were most likely to reach each level at least monthly.

The figures are released as alcohol charities become increasingly concerned about the effects of COVID-19 on people’s consumption of alcohol.

According to Alcohol Change UK, 28% of people who have ever drunk alcohol think they have been drinking more during lockdown, 49% expect to continue drinking as they have been during lockdown, and 17% expect to drink more. Of those surveyed, 19% have drunk alcohol to handle stress or anxiety.

Parents of under 18-year-olds were more likely to say that they had done so (30%) than non-parents (17%), and parents of adult children (11%). Of those who drank more heavily during lockdown (nine plus units on each drinking day), 40% had drunk as a response to stress or anxiety.

Promising buck of the trend?

Whilst lockdown has increased drinking levels for some, new data suggests fewer young people are consuming alcohol in the UK.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Adam Winstock, consultant addictions psychiatrist and researcher on the Drinking To Excess And The Tipping Point paper*, said, ‘over the last decade or so, the UK is drinking a bit less and rates of non-drinking among young people have actually increased.

‘What this says, is that for those people who do drink, they are still drinking in a way to reach intoxication at levels that are associated with significant short and long-term risk.

‘We need to start having conversations with people who want to go out and get drunk, about trying to bring that level down a bit.’

The papers’ authors say this should not be seen as a reason to reduce prevention efforts, as the survey shows those who do drink are consuming potentially harmful levels.

Instead, encouraging people to avoid reaching their tipping point may be more useful, as well as guidelines on “low risk” drinking.

They also suggest that wearable tech could help flag when a person is approaching their tipping point and alert them to slow down or stop their consumption.

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*Drinking to Excess and The Tipping Point is a research paper published in the International Journal of Drug Policy. It analyses data from The Global Drugs Survey which collected responses from 61,043 respondents (63.7% male) from 21 countries who took part in GDS2015. The data was collected in November 2014 to January 2015 and published in July 2020.