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How much do you drink? Whatever you say, your GP will double it

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 09/08/2018 Laura Donnelly

© provided by Shutterstock However much you say you drink, your doctors will double the figure, new research suggests.

Polling of almost 200 GPs found they were unlikely to believe patients when they grilled them on their lifestyle habits.

Most used an “alcohol multiplier” - assuming that patients were likely to admit to drinking around half as much as they really do, the polling by insurers found.

A parallel survey of adults found many had little idea how much they were drinking - and even less idea what consitutes a safe limit.

It follows warnings that the baby boomer generation is fast becoming the booziest age group, with men and women in their 70s suffering the results of decades of excess.

The survey of 191 doctors by Direct Line Life Insurance found that overall, they believed just 40 per cent of patients accurately represent how much alcohol they consume.  Young women were the most likely to underestimate their intake.

And GPs reckoned 21 per cent of their patients had symptoms of high alcohol dependency, with a further 19 per cent showing moderate dependence.

The survey of 2,000 adults found many admitted to being economical with the truth, when doctors asked them about their drinking habits.

Related: 15 Ways Alcohol Affects You After 40 (provided by Mom.me)

Advice from Dame Sally Davies, the country’s chief medical officer, says men and women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week.

The guidance - which brought men’s limits down in 2016, followed advice from Dame Sally to women to “do as I do” and think about the risks of breast cancer before having a glass of wine.

Almost one third of those polled did not know what the limits are, and one in five said they regularly drank more.

One in five said they did not keep track, while 16 per cent said “everyone misrepresents how much they drink”. Almost as many - 14 per cent - feared being judged by their family doctor, with just as many deciding the information was irrelevent.

More than one in ten admitted they were surprised by how much they were drinking, when they calculated their units, and said they revised down their total, telling their doctors their habits were in line with recommended guidelines.

© provided by Shutterstock Andrew Misell, a director at Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK, said: "This is not the first piece of research to indicate that we don't always tell the truth about how much we drink. A lot of us, if we're honest with ourselves, will be able to remember occasions when we've been economical with the truth when discussing with our doctor how much we eat, drink and exercise. It really highlights our strange relationship with alcohol. We don't mind joking about heavy drinking episodes, but we clam up when asked to talk seriously about how much we drink and why." 

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said family doctors were not “killjoys” and that it was best to tell them the truth.

“Over-consumption of alcohol can have a huge negative effect on our health and wellbeing, so being honest with your GP or other healthcare professional, as well as yourself, about how much you drink is an important first step in understanding how it could be impacting your life.

“GPs understand that it might sometimes be difficult for people to keep track of how much alcohol they drink, and that some patients might not want to disclose the amount because they’re embarrassed or worried about being judged by their doctor. But patients should be reassured that GPs are medical professionals, highly trained to have sensitive, non-judgemental conversations about anything that might be affecting their overall health and wellbeing,” she said.

The GP said everyone should be encouraged to try to limit their intake to a maximum of 14 units a week, with at least two alcohol-free days a week.

© provided by Shutterstock Jane Morgan, business manager at Direct Line Life Insurance, said: “Most of us enjoy a drink from time to time, but no matter how much alcohol you consume it’s important to be honest with your doctor about it. Without all the correct information about your lifestyle you may not get the right diagnosis or treatment.”

She also said customers should be honest about their drinking when buying health or life insurance policies.

Helen Clark, deputy director of drugs, alcohol and tobacco at PHE said: “It’s all too easy for the amount of alcohol you drink to creep up on you. That’s why it’s important people try to keep track of how much they’re drinking.

"The Chief Medical Officer’s advice is not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week. Some glasses of wine can contain as many as three units of alcohol. Our One You Drink Free Days app is a simple and easy way to help track and reduce your drinking.”

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