Page last updated at 09:23 GMT, Friday, 18 June 2010 10:23 UK

Do you drink more than you think?

People clinking glasses

We asked readers to keep a drinking diary, comparing how much alcohol they thought they would consume with what they really did drink. So, what were the results and how do some of our diary-keepers view their drinking habits?

Two weeks ago we challenged Magazine readers to see whether they really knew how much alcohol they drank. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence has suggested that GPs should, as a matter of course, ask patients how much they drink.

Graphic showing trends within our drinking survey

But as our article explained, there are questions over people's ability to make an accurate estimate.

Government guidelines recommend that women should drink no more than 2-3 units of alcohol per day, and men 3-4 units.

Eighty-five readers took part in our challenge - noting at the start how many units of alcohol they thought they consumed in a normal seven-day period. Then they filled in our drinking diary to tot up the units of alcohol in the glasses of wine and pints of lager they actually drank over the coming days.

While this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a scientific experiment or one that has been conducted under controlled circumstances, the results nevertheless make interesting reading.

Of those 85 people, 57 under-estimated, 23 over-estimated and five people accurately predicted how much they would drink.

So what did our readers learn from the experience? Here is a selection of their stories, with the full results at the foot of the page.

Name: Nicky Lloyd, Edinburgh, 36 Estimate: 40 units Actual: 95

Nicky Lloyd
"I was very surprised about how much I had under-estimated the amount of alcohol I drank that week. I was pretty sure that I would be over the recommended allowance, but I didn't think it would be so much more. I think the discrepancy was due to the fact that I simply under-estimated just how much I drink and how many units were in each drink. There were two celebrations during the week, which is not unusual within my lifestyle. One was a leaving party for a friend. I had four cocktails, four glasses of champagne and two bottles of Magners cider."

Name: Kathrin Ebeling, London Age: 29 Est: 3-5 Actual: 1

Kathrin Ebeling
"I usually only drink on a night out, but I did not go out that week. Unlike wine, which is served in bottles, small or large glasses, vodka is a simple drink to convert into units. One shot equals one unit. A couple of years ago I started deliberately counting my units per night and set a personal limit of five. Even though it may appear to be a rather serious measure to take, I stick to it simply for the joys of a hangover-free morning."
Name: Daniel Ratcliffe, Leicester Age: 36 Est: 84 Actual: 98

Daniel Ratcliffe
"It was slightly over my estimate, but I thought it would be a fairly heavy week. It was really the last night that put me over, which was just because I had nothing on the next day. I knew before that I drank far more than I should. And I had a rough idea, if I ever gave it any thought, what sort of figures it would be in a week, not least because the GP asks these days whenever you visit, or at least mine does."

Name: Tim, Cambridgeshire Age: 39 Est: 35 units Actual: 71.5


"I would have been closer to my estimate, which was five units a day, if I hadn't had my birthday, when I drank about 32 units. I had a couple of pints, then a restaurant where I had three or four glasses of wine, then back to the pub for a couple, then home where I had a tin or two of beer. So what some people would think a normal celebration night was nearly as much as the rest of the week. I knew I drank a little too much but I didn't realise how much. It doesn't help that I like strong ales."

Name: Louise Hall, Yorkshire Age: 50 Est: 21 Actual: 39

Louise Hall
"It was a bit of a shock when I saw what my week's units was. When going for a tea-time drink with my partner, we bumped into a couple of friends and got chatting, as you do. Along came another couple and then another. Most of my units were consumed on this day. The rest of the week was my weekly average. If I hadn't had my night out I would have been on target. The basic alcohol unit systems is ok, it only becomes complex when you go into various pubs and clubs where their measures are different."
Name: Helen Marks, London
Age: 23 Est: 15 Actual: 16

Helen Marks
"I think my estimate was fairly reliable, but in an average week my intake would probably have been higher. When I was out for dinner with a friend, we actively decided against getting a second bottle of wine because it would take us both over our estimation. I found it very easy to calculate the units I was consuming, especially as most larger brands now include the number of units on the bottle alongside the ABV. Ten of my 16 units were from wine while eating with friends, and 11 in the first two days."

Name: Katie Bourn, Somerset Age: 30 Est: 14 Actual: 16

Katie Bourn
"I was pleased to see that my estimate wasn't too far out but must admit that I wasn't very aware of how many units were in a glass of wine, for instance, before reading your explanation. So my original estimate might have been much lower. I do think the units system is too complex. I find it difficult to remember exactly how many units each drink is likely to contain and how many I'm 'allowed'. When I was recording my units, I found it easier to look up the number of units on the side of the bottle or can. However the physical act of checking and recording made me much more aware of my alcohol consumption and as a result, I tried to curb my drinking. Being free from recording my units at the end of the week felt lovely, but naughty too as I probably had a little more that evening."

Graph showing readers drinking estimates



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