Scientists have identified genes that may help detect individuals who are at the risk of developing alcohol-related diseases.
The new finding attains significance as it may pave the way for a new technology to enable people to decide how much they can drink without putting their health at risk.
Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians and liver specialist at Liverpool University, has revealed that carrying a gene called Cyp2E1 increases a person's risk of being afflicted by liver cirrhosis by four fold.
"In 10 years we may be able to look at individual gene fingerprints and predict what a person's risk is of alcohol-related diseases. If people want to know this and the technology is available they have a right to know," Sunday Express quoted him as saying.
The guidelines on safe alcohol consumption, issued by the UK Government in 1987, recommend a weekly maximum of 21 units for men and 14 for women.
Richard Smith, a former editor of the British Medical Journal and a member of the Royal College of Physicians working party that produced the figures, says that the guidelines were based on very little evidence. He says that the Government was obliged to produce them because of the concern at growing evidence of the chronic damage caused by heavy, long-term drinking.
However, Professor Gilmore believes that the guidelines are still the best estimate.
"One of the reasons why it is difficult to say what is a safe level is because there is a huge variation in the effects of alcohol on individuals," he said.
He further said that only 20 to 30 per cent of very heavy drinkers would develop liver disease, and that "a minority of people who drink hazardously will get damaged."
Professor Gilmore also favoured a coalition of health groups led by the Royal College of Physicians that has launched a campaign for a 10 per cent increase in alcohol taxation, tighter controls on the drinks industry and warnings on alcohol advertising.
"Alcohol is part of every celebration. Drinks' firms sponsor football and other sports. Drinking is not completely a free choice because there is so much pressure towards consumption. We need to use internationally proven ways of reducing the health harm from drinking and the strongest one is price," he said.
"We know if you stick below the safe limits you're extremely unlikely to get physical, mental or social harm from alcohol," he added.