According to a study conducted by researchers in the UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, the results of which were published in a new paper in the European Journal of Public Health this week, more than three quarters of people in England are drinking to excess.
The team were following up on international studies which have shown self-reported alcohol consumption only accounts for 40-60 per cent of actual alcohol sales.
"Currently we don’t know who consumes almost half of all the alcohol sold in England," said Sadie Boniface, lead author of the study at UCL.
Boniface claimed by assuming everyone under-reported equally, the number of people drinking more than the daily limit would increase by 19 per cent in men and 26 per cent in women to 75 and 80 per cent respectively.
“The results are putative, but they show that this gap between what is seen in the surveys and sales potentially has enormous implications for public health in England," said the report's author.
Encourage pub drinking
However Kate Nicholls, strategic affairs director at trade body the ALMR, questioned the study and said the facts spoke for themselves.
"If Britons are bingeing then they are bingeing on sobriety," she said.
"Over the past decade, the amount of alcohol bought and consumed in this country is down by just under 8 per cent. What is more telling is that the volume of alcohol sold through pubs and bars – where units can be measured and consumption monitored – is down by almost a third.
"People may under-estimate the units they pour themselves when they are drinking at home, but this is HMRC data on duty paid at point of production. So unless there is a huge illegal production capacity and illegal market - bigger than anything Government has previously estimated - the assumptions made in this research are simply unsustainable," she added.
Nicholls also warned against taking international trends and extrapolating them to the UK - a much more mature market than some of the emerging markets covered by international studies.
The Government is currently planning to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol sold in England and Wales - a consultation on introducing a 45p per unit minimum price ended last month. The Government is expected to respond before May.
“What is clear is that if we want to make sure that people are clear about the units they are consuming and that the measures they are being poured are accurate, then we need to encourage people back into pubs to drink in a supervised and responsible retail environment," said Nicholls.
"If we are serious about promoting public health and tackling alcohol related harms then politicians, the alcohol charities and the trade need to work in partnership to achieve that," she concluded.