As many as three quarters of people in the UK are underestimating the amount they drink according to a new study.
A study by University College London (UCL) compared sales figures with surveys of how much people thought they drank.
The report found a “significant shortfall” with almost half of all alcohol sold being unaccounted for in the consumption figures.
The research team used alcohol sales data from Revenue and Customs and then compared them with self-reporting consumption surveys conducted in 2008 – firstly the General Lifestyle Survey which looked at the average weekly consumption in 12,490 adults and secondly the Health Survey for England, which looked at the heaviest drinking day in the previous week among 9,608 adults.
Researchers concluded that excess drinking was a long way above official estimates, with the majority of drinkers unable or unwilling to say how much they really drank.
The study is said to have found that 19% more men than previously thought were exceeding the daily limit and 26% more women than previous figures suggested.
Weekly consumption was also greater than otherwise thought, with 15% more men and 11% more women exceeding the weekly allowance.
The leader of the study, Sadie Boniface, said: “Currently we don’t know who consumes almost half of all alcohol in England. This study was conducted to show what alcohol consumption would look like when all of what is sold is accounted for, if everyone under-reported equally.
“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.”
One reason for this shortfall was put down to irregular drinking patterns and habits.
Alcohol Concern said: “When we’re totting up our drinks total we don’t always count some occasions as proper drinking.
“We may underestimate drink sizes and their alcoholic content, and not count holidays and special occasions like weddings, birthdays and Christmas when we often drink a great deal more than usual.”
Drinkaware also responded to the study with a statement in which chief executive Elaine Hindal said: “It’s not unusual for people to under-report how much alcohol they drink, whether that’s intentional or not. People don’t tend to understand differences in sizes and strengths of popular drinks, or might be unwilling to admit to themselves and others exactly how much they drink.
“Consumers need to be aware of the unit guidelines and how this equates to their own drinking. Nearly everyone has heard of the term ‘units’, but many people find it difficult to translate how many there are in their favourite drink. Using a unit calculator like MyDrinkaware can help people understand how much they’re drinking and how it’s affecting their health.”
The Department of Health has said it will take the finding into consideration.