Thursday, December 10, 1998 Published at 00:09 GMT
Gauging the real benefits of drinking
So how much is healthy?
More than half of adults in the UK believe alcohol is good for your health, according to a study.
The most popular benefit attributed to alcohol was that it relieves stress.
But the dangers of excessive drinking were also acknowledged, with 68% of those surveyed saying that it could cause high blood pressure.
The survey was carried out by the Health Education Authority (HEA).
Research suggests that alcohol can cut the risk of coronary heart disease in some people - men over the age of 40 and women who have passed through the menopause.
This occurs when small amounts are consumed regularly - say, one or two units a day.
However, the HEA said that younger people received no health benefits from alcohol whatsoever.
Only two per cent of those surveyed correctly identified the groups who could benefit from the occasional tipple.
A spokeswoman for the charity said there had been a steady move over the years to encourage people to drink sensibly but media coverage had inevitably confused people about who could benefit from alcohol.
She said any benefits should be put in perspective.
"Medical opinion still says that if you are a complete tee-totaller, a doctor would not say to you 'take up drinking', it's not something that is healthy per se.
"It's something that may have a beneficial effect as a side-effect."
Lynne Friedli is manager of the HEA's alcohol programme.
She said: "Many people believe that alcohol is good for you, but few know who can actually benefit from drinking small amounts.
"It is important that people have the full facts and realise that drinking alcohol raises blood pressure and has a number of health risks."
The HEA says that regularly men drinking three to four units of alcohol a day or women drinking two to three units are not posing a significant risk to their health.
A unit of alcohol is equivalent to half a pint of ordinary strength beer, lager or cider (3-4% alcohol by volume), a small glass of wine (9%ABV) or a 25ml measure of spirits.
However, drinking more than this can damage health, it said.
The results of the survey coincide with the publication of a leaflet, Take Heart From Sensible Drinking, by the Pharmacy Healthcare Scheme on Thursday.
It aims to dispel the myths about alcohol in the run up to the Christmas party season.
Roger Odd, head of the scheme, said: "This new leaflet should prove to be extremely popular, giving reliable advice about an issue that is often misunderstood."
The leaflet will be distributed to pharmacies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.