Go Easy On Alcohol
Research has shown that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can have health benefits. For men over 40 and women after menopause, having one or two small drinks a day can help prevent coronary heart disease. However many people drink enough to put their health at risk.
How Much Is Too Much
The British government guidelines state that men should drink no more than 3 or 4 units per day and women no more than 2 or 3 units per day. However, some medical experts believe these levels are too high, and recommend no more than 3 units a day for men and 2 a day for women. Either way you should not ‘save up’ the units over the week and use them to binge at the weekend.
Strength And Units
The strength of an alcoholic drink is indicated by the percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV). A unit is 8 grams of pure alcohol, regardless of the amount of liquid it’s contained in.
The number of units in one liter of any is equal to the ABV. So a 500ml can of 8% ABV lager contains 4 units.
One unit is equal to:
- about a half pint (300ml) of ordinary strength lager, beer or cider
- a 25ml pub measure of spirit or a small glass of fortified wine, such as sherry or port (15.5% ABV)
- a small glass (125ml) of 8% ABV wine
Unit For Women
The reason that the limits for women are less than for men is because the body composition of women has less water than men. Therefore, even if a man and woman are of similar size and weight, the woman will tend to get drunk faster. Women can also develop liver disease at lower levels of drinking than men.
When drunk frequently or in large quantities, alcohol is addictive. Doctors use a number of techniques to identify patients with drink problems, and there are screening questions drinkers may be asked to explore issues such as the amount and frequency of drinking, whether it damages the drinker’s relationships, or whether they have a drink to ‘get going’ in the morning.
A person is generally considered to be dependent on alcohol when they have experience three or more of the following symptoms during a year:
- strong urge to drink
- difficulty controlling drinking
- physical withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shaking, agitation and nausea when they try to reduce drinking
- a growing tolerance to alcohol (needing larger quantities to get the same effect)
- gradual neglect of other activities
- persistent drinking even though it is obviously causing harm
Problem drinking occurs when a person is not dependent on alcohol, but drinks enough to cause actual physical or psychological harm.
Short Term Effects
Alcohol suppresses the part of the brain that controls judgment, resulting in a loss of inhibitions. It also affects physical coordination, causing blurred vision, slurred speech and loss of balance. Drinking a very large amount at one time can lead to unconscious, coma and even death. Vomiting while unconscious can lead to death by asphyxiation (suffocation). Alcohol is implicated in a large proportion of fatal road accidents, assaults and incidents of domestic violence.
Long Term Effects
Alcohol can be a dangerous drug. Drinking too much too often will cause physical damage, increase the risk of getting some diseases, and make other diseases worse. Excessive drinking over time is associated with:
- loss of brain cells
- liver failure
- irritated stomach lining and bleeding from stomach ulcers
- high blood pressure (which can lead to stroke)
- certain types of cancer
- nerve damage
- heart failure
Excessive drinking has been linked to:
- vitamin deficiency
- sexual problems
- muscle disease
- skin problems
- inflammation of the pancreas
Alcohol And Pregnancy
Women who drink heavily during pregnancy are at risk of having babies with a condition called fetal alcohol syndrome, which can result in growth deficiencies, nervous system problems, lowered intelligence and facial abnormalities in the child.
There is some evidence that pregnant women who drink more than 10 units a week are more likely to have underweight babies. It is not known if there is an absolutely safe limit for drinking during pregnancy but it may be wise to avoid alcohol altogether.
Although alcohol initially makes people relaxed, long term excessive use can ultimately increase anxiety and cause depression. It is also related to problems with sleeping, mood swings, violence and suicide.
If you think you are drinking too much, keep a ‘drinking diary’ – noting how much alcohol you drink each week. It will reveal whether you are drinking within safe guidelines and help you identify the situations that you need to avoid to cut down your drinking.