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Posted on 28th October 2020

Alcohol advice – The risks, the facts and the myths

The Facts

The recommended weekly limit for men and women is 14 units of alcohol; this is equivalent to 6 pints of average-strength (4%) beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength (13%) wine.

The impact alcohol has on your health will depend on the amount you drink. Lower alcohol consumption will typically present lower risks to your health.

Myths Busted

Thanks to recent research, there is now a better understanding of the link between drinking and certain health conditions. However, outdated alcohol advice can still play a part in people’s decision making. So, here are some drinking myths busted:

  • some level of alcohol is good for the heart – false – this alcohol advice has now been revised following new findings.
  • Moderate drinking has a protective effect – false – evidence of this is less strong than previously thought leading to a change in alcohol advice.
  • A small amount of drinking is perfectly safe – false – There is now no ‘safe’ level of drinking advised by Public Health England. All levels of alcohol consumption carry a varying degree of risk

Low-risk drinking

Drinking less than 14 units of alcohol a week is considered to be low-risk drinking.

While this level of drinking is considered low risk, it is important to note that current alcohol advice states that there is no safe level of drinking.

You can find out more about alcohol units here

To minimise risks:

  • men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week
  • drinking should be spread out over 3 or more days with several drink-free days each week

Growing risk and high risk drinking

Regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week risks damaging your health.

Fourteen units are equivalent to 6 pints of average-strength (4%) beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength (13%) wine.

By regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol for a prolonged period of time, you can put yourself at greater risk of developing one of the following health conditions:

  • cancers of the throat, breast and mouth
  • strokes
  • heart disease
  • liver disease
  • brain damage
  • harm to the nervous system

Evidence also suggests that prolonged high-risk drinking can have a detrimental effect on your mental health. Furthermore, research has found a correlation between high-risk drinking and self-harming, including suicide.

Tips for cutting down

If you are regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol each week, these simple tips may help you cut down.

  • Plan ahead – Before drinking, set yourself a limit on how much you’re going to drink and stick to it.
  • Tighten the purse strings – Budget how much you want to spend on alcohol and only take that amount.
  • A problem shared is a problem halved – let friends and family know you’re trying to cut, their support could be invaluable.
  • One step at a time – Reduce your drinking gradually. Don’t try to do too much too soon.
  • Do it by halves – You can still enjoy a drink and cut down at the same time, just opt for a smaller size where available. Half anyone?
  • Dial back the ABV – Similarly, you can reduce consumption simply by swapping stronger beers or wines for lower strength equivalents. Check the label for the ABV.
  • Don’t forget H2O – try to fit in a glass of water before and in between alcoholic drinks. As a bonus, you’ll likely feel better the next morning too!
  • Spread it out – be sure to have several alcohol-free days each week and spread drinking over at least 3 days.

Benefits of cutting down

Cutting down can have some instant benefits including:

  • feeling more refreshed in the mornings
  • having more energy during the day
  • clearer, healthier skin
  • weight loss or simply improved weight management

Longer-term benefits of cutting down can include:

  • Improved Mood – There’s a strong link between heavy drinking and depression. Furthermore, hangovers can exacerbate existing issues such as anxiety or low mood.
  • Sound sleeping – While drinking helps some people fall asleep quickly, it can disrupt sleep patterns and hinder deep sleeping.
  • A better version of you – Drinking often affects the way we act, leading to irrational or aggressive behaviour.
  • Making memories – Memory loss can be an issue while drinking and may affect regular heavy drinkers in the long term.
  • Heart – prolonged high-risk drinking can cause your heart to become enlarged. This serious and irreversible condition can only be slowed once drinking is reduced.
  • Immune system – Regular high-risk drinking can reduce the body’s ability to fight infection, leaving heavy drinkers more susceptible to infectious diseases.

Drinking and Pregnancy

Despite misconceptions and anecdotal advice, current advice from the UK chief medical officers’ states:

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.

Binge drinking or ‘single session’ drinking

Typically, binge drinking refers to drinking a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time or drinking to get drunk.

Binge drinking is defined as consuming more than:

  • 8 units in a single session for men – Equivalent to 5 bottles of 5% strength beer or 5 small glasses of 13% wine
  • 6 units in a single session for women–Equivalent to 2 pints of 5% strength beer or 2 large glasses of 12% wine

There is no universal definition of binge drinking as tolerance to alcohol can differ from person to person.

If you feel you have become tolerant to the effects of alcohol, you may be at increased risk of developing health issues. If so, you should consider cutting back or seeking support from your GP or a member of our team.

Risks

Drinking too much, too quickly on a single occasion can put you at greater risk of:

  • accidents and serious injury
  • misjudging potentially hazardous situations
  • losing self-control
  • being at risk from others
  • losing your ability to look after friends

Reducing risk

To reduce health risks from binge drinking, try to:

  • Spread your drinking over three or more days
  • Drink slower, savour it!
  • Combine drinking with meals or food
  • Enjoy water or non-alcoholic drinks in-between
  • Plan ahead and make sure you can get home safely or are with people you trust
  • Keep track of your drinking, especially in risky or unfamiliar circumstances.

 

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