While the fact that the less we drink, the healthier we are and the better we feel is certainly no secret, it can be hard to know exactly how much we should be drinking.
Government guidelines released in January 2016 recommend that you should not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. This is less than previously suggested, and no longer discriminates between the amount women and men should drink.
The government guidelines of 14 units a week equates to:
These amounts are per week, and it is not a good idea to cram all of these units into just one or two nights out. Ideally, you should spread out these units throughout the week, ensuring there are several alcohol-free days in between the days you do drink.
If you are pregnant, you should avoid drinking altogether.
Drinking more than the recommended amount means you’ll be at risk of a range of health problems. To calculate whether your drinking is within these guidelines, try this seven-day calculator from Drink Aware.
Most people’s livers are able to process, or remove, about one unit of alcohol per hour from the body.
There are many effects of alcohol on the body, for example, when you drink your heart rate speeds up your blood vessels expand. After drinking just one or two units, you may feel more relaxed, sociable and talkative than usual.
Drinking more than one or two units is when your brain and nervous system start to be affected. This can lead to:
You’ll also be at increased risk of accident and injury, are more likely to be violent, antisocial and have unsafe sex. You may also experience sexual problems such as impotence.
When a large amount of alcohol is consumed, this can lead to alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning may include the above symptoms, plus the symptoms below:
Alcohol poisoning can lead to coma, and possible death.
If you think someone may have alcohol poisoning, try to keep them awake and sitting up, keep them warm and give them water. You should also check their breathing, and stay with them to monitor them. If they have passed out, put them in the recovery position. If you have any doubts, call 999.
After smoking and obesity, excessive drinking is the third biggest causes of disease and death in the UK.
Alcohol is associated with more than 60 adverse health consequences and hundreds of physical and mental conditions.
The health problems associated with alcohol include:
Mouth and throat, voice box, oesophagus, liver, colorectal and breast cancer have been found to be directly attributable to alcohol. Consuming three units a day increases the risk of developing liver cancer by 20%, six units increases the risk by 40% and 12 units increases the risk by 80%.
Drinking heavily for even a short period of time can cause fat to build up in the liver. This is one of the earliest stages of alcoholic liver disease and is called steatosis. Steatosis can also lead to dangerous inflammations of the liver, such as alcoholic hepatitis, which in turns leads to many health problems such as jaundice and clotting difficulties. Heavy drinking is also linked to fibrosis, which is when scar tissue builds up in the liver. This can cause cirrhosis, which is when the liver slowly deteriorates over time. Around one in five heavy drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis and one in four develop cirrhosis.
Although the exact link between dementia and alcohol is still debated, research has shown that regular, heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk of the most common forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
Regular alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension). Drinking more than three alcoholic drinks a day can increase your chance of developing hypertension by up to 75%.
Heavy alcohol consumption is linked to both weight gain and chronic pancreatitis, two risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. Regular binge drinking is thought to be a particular risk factor for this type of diabetes.
Binge drinking and long-term heavy drinking increase your risk of stroke. Alcohol also exasperates the problems that often lead to strokes, such as hypertension and cardiomyopathy.
Chronic heavy drinkers are more likely to contract diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, and drinking excessively on even a single occasion can slow your body’s ability to fight off infection for up to 24 hours.
Once some people start drinking, they find it difficult to control themselves. If you think you may be alcohol dependant (see below), you may want to consider giving up alcohol completely. Many people who are not alcohol dependent find that cutting down just a little has a large positive effect on their general health and wellbeing.
To help yourself cut down, and limit nasty hangovers, try to:
This might involve setting yourself a limit at the beginning of the night, and trying to stick to it. It’s a good idea to tell someone else how much you are planning on drinking, in the hope that they will remind you if you go over your self-imposed limit.
Drinking more slowly means you will probably drink less overall. It also means that the effects of alcohol on the body will be slowed down.
Substituting an alcoholic drink with water or a non-alcoholic drink means you are less likely to get dehydrated, and should drink less overall.
Eating a healthy meal before you start drinking, or snacking between drinks should slow the absorption of alcohol into your blood stream.
If you’re not sure about how much you are drinking, and are worried it might be too much, keep a diary to track the amount you drink. This can help you identify if you have a problem.
Someone who has lost control of their drinking and has an excessive desire or need to drink is known as a dependent drinker. Dependent drinkers can usually tolerate very high levels of alcohol, much more than those who are not dependent or heavy drinkers. They find it hard to stop drinking, and if they do they experience withdrawal symptoms such as:
If you are worried about your own, or someone else’s drinking, seek help. Remember that with the right support, anyone can overcome addiction.