People Are Drinking A Lot More Alcohol Than They Admit

girls drinking beer during oktoberfest in munich, germany

Photo: Getty Images / Alexandra Beier

It is February, the winter is going on for ever, the economy is rubbish, and guess what? We are drinking too much.But it seems we are also seriously underestimating how much we drink. Researchers at University College London have calculated that the amount of alcohol that we say we consume only accounts for 60% of what is sold. So unless we are pouring four in every 10 units of alcohol that we buy down the sink, there is a serious gap between the volume purchased and the amount we admit to drinking.

As a GP, I tend to take self-reported intake of alcohol, food and drugs with a pinch of salt. It is not that I don’t believe what patients say, but I recognise that it is hard to be accurate. We are encouraged to ask people routinely about alcohol intake and there are some objective signs that a person may be drinking too much, such as raised blood pressure, indigestion and abnormal blood-test results. I have never heard of the idea of doubling the amount that a patient says they are drinking, as lead author of the study, Sadie Boniface, has suggested. Our relationship with patients relies on each believing that the other is telling the truth as they see it.

If you are drinking much more than the NHS recommends – three to four units for men or two to three for women a day – it is worth seeing your GP to talk through your approach to alcohol. If he or she seems to disbelieve your estimates, don’t take it personally. Chances are your GP is just projecting. Overdrinking and underestimating intake affect most of us. Doctors are no different.

This article originally appeared on

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