As a report by the Commons science and technology committee calls for a review on guidelines for safe alcohol levels, Priory's research endorses the belief that guidelines should be reviewed and simplified.
When questioned, one in three women and one in five men did not know the number of units specified in the national guidelines. Almost half of over 55's were not aware of the much publicised safe alcohol consumption limits.
The research also found that young people are not the worst offenders for excessive drinking, with those aged 35 - 44 the most likely to drink too much.
The heaviest drinkers are found in 55 - 64 year olds where six per cent habitually drink more than 43 units a week. Regionally, the North of England has the highest number of 'over the limit' drinkers, closely followed by Scotland. Wales and the South West of England fare best with only eight per cent.
Highlights of the research findings:
- 21% of men regularly drink in excess of the national guidelines
- 15% of women regularly drink in excess of the national guidelines
- 21% of 35 - 44 year olds regularly drink in excess of the national guidelines
- 12% of 25 - 34 year olds regularly drink in excess of the national guidelines
- 11% of 45 - 54 year olds regularly drink in excess of the national guidelines
- 20% of men did not know the correct number of units in the guidelines
- 29% of women did not know the correct number of units in the guidelines
- 49% of over 55's did not know the correct number of units in the guidelines
Regional findings for the number of people drinking in excess of the national guidelines:
- North of England 17%
- Scotland 16%
- Midlands 14%
- South East 11%
- Wales and the South West 8%
More than half the people questioned preferred to drink at home or at a friend's house. However, 78% of 18 - 24 year olds favoured a pub, club or bar.
Experts at the Priory Group have put together a number of simple questions to help individuals ascertain if alcohol is starting to become a problem.
1. Are you worried you're drinking too much?
2. Have friends or family expressed concerns about your drinking habits?
3. Has drinking affected your work, family or personal relationships?
4. Can you drink a lot without becoming drunk?
5. Do you experience blanks in your memory when drinking?
6. Have you ever tried to stop drinking, but returned to it after just a few days?
7. Do you feel shaky, sweaty or anxious a few hours after your last drink?
8. When drinking, do you find yourself doing things you normally wouldn't do?
Anyone answering yes to several of the questions may be at risk.
The Priory Group offers a free confidential assessment at its hospitals across the UK for all addictions, including alcohol.
Its abstinence-based addiction treatment programme was established in 1980. Priory is unique because it has more patients in treatment and offers more individual treatment time than any other UK provider. At any point in time Priory has 100 - 110 patients in a variety of addiction treatment programmes, including alcohol addiction treatment and drug addiction treatments, across its hospitals, helping over 1,200 people with addictions issues annually.
Dr Mark Collins, consultant at the Priory Group said: "What these figures clearly show is that large numbers of people are still drinking more than is good for them.
Despite high-profile advertising campaigns the national guidelines are still a mystery to many people and this is worrying. When people were asked how many units they thought they drank this was universally a much smaller number of units than the actual amount consumed.
The recommended limits are not designed to spoil people's fun but to ensure that they do not drink amounts that can be physically and mentally damaging. We would welcome a review of the guidelines to simplify them and tackle this difficult problem.
Many people enjoy a drink without it negatively affecting their day-to-day lives, but with drinking a part of many people's social or working environments, it can be easy to lose track.
Anyone worried about their drinking habits should seek advice and support from their GP in the first instance. If necessary, GPs can refer you to centres like ours for further assessment and help."