Aims: To investigate the awareness and knowledge of hazardous drinking limits among the general population in Sweden and the extent to which people estimate their alcohol consumption in standard drinks to assess their level of drinking.
Methods: A population-based study involving 6000 individuals selected from the total Swedish population was performed. Data were collected by means of a postal questionnaire. The mail survey response rate was 54.3% (n = 3200) of the net sample of 5891 persons.
Results: With regard to drinking patterns, 10% of the respondents were abstainers, 59% were sensible drinkers and 31% were classified as hazardous drinkers. Most of the abstainers (80%), sensible drinkers (64%) and hazardous drinkers (56%) stated that they had never heard about the standard drink method. Familiarity with the hazardous drinking concept also differed between the three categories although ∼61% of sensible and hazardous drinkers expressed awareness of the concept (46% of the abstainers). Knowledge about the limits for sensible drinking was very poor. Between 94 and 97% in the three categories did not know the limit. There was a statistically significant association between having visited health care within the last 12 months and being aware of the standard drink method and the hazardous drinking concept, but not with knowing the hazardous drinking limits. Similarly, there was a significant association between having had at least one alcohol conversation in health care within the last 12 months and being aware of the standard drink method and the hazardous drinking concept, but not with knowing the hazardous drinking limits.
Conclusion: The results can be seen as a major challenge for the health-care system and public health authorities because they imply that a large proportion of the Swedish population does not know when alcohol consumption becomes a threat to their health. The current strategy to disseminate knowledge about sensible drinking limits to the population through the health-care system seems to have failed and new means of informing the population are warranted.