The proportion of men in the UK who exceed the Government's sensible drinking limit has fallen, according to figures out today.

The percentage who consume more than the daily benchmark dropped from 39 per cent in 2004 to 35 per cent in 2005, the Office for National Statistics said.

Its study also shows that the upward trend in heavy drinking among young women may have peaked.

The ONS's survey found that the proportion of 16- to 24-year-old females who said they had drunk more than six units of alcohol on at least one day in the previous week increased from 24 per cent to 28 per cent between 1998 and 2002 - but was down to 22 per cent last year.

The guidelines are based on daily benchmark of between three and four units a day for men and two to three for women. A pint of ordinary strength lager has two units.

Women were less likely than men to exceed the limits, with one in five saying they had broken it on at least one day during the week before they were asked. Last year, 72 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women said they had alcohol on at least one day in the period in question.

However, the study found younger people were more likely than older people to break the limits. More than two-fifths of males aged between 16 to 24 had exceeded four units on at least one day during the week before they were questioned, compared with 16 per cent of men who were aged 65 or more.

Heavy drinking, defined as more than eight units a day for men and six for women on at least one day, was the preserve of young men, the ONS report said.

Nearly one in three men and 22 per cent of women aged 16 to 24 had drunk heavily on at least one day in the week before. These proportions for people who were aged 65 and above were just 4 per cent and 1 per cent respectively.

The figures also suggest that although the daily amounts are exceeded, at least those breaching them may be aware of it. The survey revealed that this year, knowledge of daily limits and measuring alcohol in units has increased among men and women.