How much do you really know about alcohol? It’s likely that what you do know is based on what you’ve
read, heard or experienced - but how much of that is actually fact and how much is just a myth?
TRUTH: Alcohol is a depressant that affects the central nervous system – we all know it can make you sleepy. But because it depresses inhibitions at first, it can make you feel more energetic or cheerful for a period of time. But that means you can also be less able to control your emotions or reactions, and continuing to drink does clearly slow down the way you think, speak, move and react.
TRUTH: You might feel less sleepy, but only time will get alcohol out of your body; depending on your weight, it takes about one hour to process one unit of alcohol.
TRUTH: In 2002, alcohol was involved in 41% of all fatal crashes (NIDA). Alcohol slows down your reaction times, so even if you think you’re in control anything unexpected could cause an accident.
TRUTH: Drinking on a full stomach, or coating your stomach with a greasy or milky solution (like drinking milk before you go out) will delay alcohol getting into your system, not prevent it. However, it is best to eat a proper meal before a night out, especially foods rich in carbohydrates and proteins.
TRUTH: Your blood alcohol content is what determines how drunk you are. Mixing drinks may make you sicker by upsetting your stomach, but not more intoxicated.
TRUTH: An average pint of beer (ABV 5%), large glass of wine (250ml, ABV 11%) or a ‘large’ double vodka (70ml, ABV 38 to 40%) all have around 2.8 units of alcohol. This is what makes you drunk chemically, and the faster you drink the full 2.8 units, the higher your peak blood level. But there are a wide range of factors that can affect how drunk you feel including your expectations.
TRUTH: Alcohol poisoning can kill you. Passing out could lead to inhaling your vomit, resulting in death by asphyxiation. Long-term drinking above NHS-recommended levels can lead to a range of serious health problems and some gradually develop alcohol addiction.
TRUTH: Alcohol can help you avoid feeling awkward or can help you feel more confident. But it can keep men from getting or keeping an erection, and it can reduce sex drive. More importantly, you might put yourself in a risky situation or you might not use a condom, putting you at greater risk of a sexually transmitted disease or an unwanted pregnancy.
Alcohol....Know your limits
Alcohol affects everyone differently depending on age, gender, lifestyle and even where you’re from. The Government guidelines state that men should not regularly drink more than three to four units a day and women should not regularly exceed more than two to three units daily.
From the second you take your first sip, alcohol starts affecting your body and mind. After one or two drinks you may start feeling more sociable, but drink too much and basic human functions, such as walking and talking become much harder. You might also start saying things you don’t mean and behaving out of character. Some of alcohol’s effects disappear overnight – while others can stay with you a lot longer, or indeed become permanent.
The harmful effects of drinking are almost entirely related to the alcohol content of what you drink, not the type of drink. In other words, beers are no safer than spirits. What matters is how much you drink. The alcohol content of drinks is measured in ‘units’. Each unit is equivalent to around 10mls or 8g of pure alcohol (ethanol). The number of units in any drink is related to the strength of the alcohol content (the concentration) and to the volume of the drink. For example, a single (35ml) shot of spirits contains roughly the same amount of alcohol as a small (125ml) glass of wine. This is about the same amount of alcohol (1.4 units) as is contained in a half pint of normal strength beer.
What are the health risks?
On the Drinkaware website you’ll find useful clinically approved facts and
information about the effects of alcohol on your life and lifestyle designed to
help you make positive decisions about your drinking. Click here to find out more about the topics below: www.drinkaware.co.uk.
Diseases and cancers
Experts estimate alcohol is responsible for at least 33,000 deaths in the UK each year. While rates of
liver disease are falling in the rest of Europe, they are rising in the UK. Liver disease used to affect
mainly drinkers in middle age, but now sufferers are getting younger. Up to one in three adults in the UK
drinks enough alcohol to be at risk of developing alcohol-related liver disease.
Alcohol misuse is an important factor in a number of cancers, including liver cancer and mouth cancer, both of which are on the increase. Alcohol is second only to smoking as a risk factor for oral and digestive tract cancers.
While studies suggesting that alcohol can help heart disease often hit the headlines, the reality is that the jury’s still out on the extent of any benefits. And it is clear that any benefits which there may be are limited to very low levels of consumption – probably no more than 1 unit alcohol per day.
Alcohol alters the brain’s chemistry and increases the risk of depression. It is often associated with a range of mental health problems A recent British survey found that people suffering from anxiety or depression were twice as likely to be heavy or problem drinkers.
If you’re trying to watch your waistline, drinking too much alcohol can be disastrous as alcohol is extremely high in calories.,Drinking too much alcohol isn’t great news for your skin either. As well as causing bloating and dark circles under your eyes, alcohol dries out your skin and can lead to wrinkles and premature aging.
Between 2007 and 2008 more than 30,000 people were admitted to hospital with alcohol poisoning. In the worst cases alcohol poisoning can cause lung damage (as you inhale your own vomit) and even lead to a heart attack. Many traditional ‘cures’, such as drinking black coffee; just don’t work – or even make things worse.
The morning after
If you’ve drunk heavily the night before, you’ll almost certainly wake up with a hangover. Alcohol irritates the stomach, so heavy drinking can cause sickness and nausea and sometimes diarrhoea. Alcohol also has a dehydrating effect, which is one reason why excessive drinking can lead to a thumping headache the morning after.
Alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant. This means that it slows down the brain and the central nervous system’s processes. You may wonder what you did the night before, feel guilty, low or lethargic.
Women and alcohol
These days women are just as likely as men to make alcohol a major part of their social lives. The problem is that many women regularly drink more than the Government’s daily recommended guidelines of 2-3 alcohol units, with around one in 14 drinking alcohol every day. Women respond to alcohol differently to men, so the recommended levels are lower than for their male counterparts
It can also lead to an increased risk of a variety of cancers, particularly breast cancer and cancer of the gullet. It is also frequently associated with mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.
Drinking heavily also increases your calorie intake, and it is frequently associated with obesity. This in turn leads to increased health risks. Adding 3 or 4 units per day to your usual diet would lead to an increase in weight of around 4lbs in four weeks.
Alcohol and Calories
Did you know that a glass of wine has the same calories as a slice of cake
and a pint of lager is the calorific equivalent of a burger?
Wine, beer, cider and spirits are made by fermenting and distilling natural starch and sugar. Being high
in sugar means alcohol contains lots of calories – seven calories a gram in fact, almost as many as
pure fat!??Calories from alcohol are ‘empty calories’ – they have no nutritional value. It’s not just the
calories that are a problem for our waistlines.
How many calories are in my drink?
With a pint of bitter the same as a medium slice of pizza, and a standard size ‘ready to drink’ bottle
(‘alcopop’) the same as 100g of cookies, the calories from alcohol soon add up…
Adapted from www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/calories-in-alcohol
The Government guidelines recommend that women should not regularly exceed 2-3 units daily and that men should not regularly exceed 3-4 units daily. Drinking within these guidelines, and trying to give yourself a couple of days off alcohol every week, will help you avoid piling on the pounds.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a support group for people who are dependent on alcohol. There are branches all over the country. Call 0845 769 7555.
It is important that if you are a heavy drinker and might suffer alcohol withdrawal symptoms, you should NEVER stop drinking suddenly. Instead, cut down a little and get immediate medical advice.
Need to lose some weight?
A regular eating pattern is an important part of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
It's not a good idea to go on a crash diet and it's important to make sure you continue to eat a balanced diet, otherwise you might not be getting all the nutrients you need to keep your body healthy.
We all want to feel healthy and trim, but no-one wants to deprive themselves of all the things they love drinking, eating and doing. The good news is you don’t have to completely – you can swap some things instead.
In fact, cutting out the things we love often means we don’t keep up the changes we make for very long. So any good work we do gets easily undone later on.
One of the best ways to be healthy is to make some swaps and build them into your life for the long term. The more you do, the better you’ll feel – and you won’t have to say ‘no’ to everything.
What is binge drinking?
The NHS definition of binge drinking is drinking heavily in a short space of time to get drunk or feel
the effects of alcohol.
The amount of alcohol someone needs to drink in a session for it to be classed as ‘bingeing’ is less
clearly defined but the marker used by the NHS and National Office of Statistics is drinking more
than double the daily recommended units of alcohol in one session.
The Government guidelines state that men should not regularly drink more than three to four units a day,
and women should not regularly exceed more than two to three units daily. Binge drinking for men,
therefore, is drinking more than eight units of alcohol – or about three pints of strong beer. For women,
it’s drinking more than six units of alcohol, equivalent to two large glasses of wine.
What’s the difference between drinking normally and binge drinking?
Two large glasses of wine may not seem like very much. But drinking six units of alcohol in a short space of time – an hour, say – will raise your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and could make you drunk very quickly. Drinking the same amount over several hours, and accompanied by food for example, will not have the same effect on your BAC.
What are the effects of binge drinking?
Some studies show that drinking a large amount of alcohol over a short period of time may be significantly worse for your health than frequently drinking small quantities.
Getting very drunk can affect your physical and mental health:
Accidents and falls are common because being drunk affects your balance and co-ordination. You’re also more likely to suffer head, hand and facial injuries. Binge drinking has also been linked to self-harm .
In extreme cases, you could die. Overdosing on alcohol can stop you breathing or stop your heart, or you could choke on your vomit.
Nearly a third (29%) of alcohol related deaths are a result of alcohol related accidents. These deaths are more common among 16–34-year-olds.
Binge drinking can affect your mood and your memory and in the longer term can lead to serious mental health problems.
More commonly, binge drinking can lead to anti-social, aggressive and violent behaviour.
Alcohol is a factor in:
• One in three (30%) sexual offences
• One in three (33%) burglaries
• One in two (50%) street crimes.
Binge drinking is most common among 16–24-year-olds , and is more common among men than women. The General Lifestyle Survey 2008 showed that 21% of men and 14% of women drank more than double their recommended units on at least one day in the previous week. However, in the last decade binge drinking among young British women has increased rapidly.??Binge drinking when you’re young can become a habit. Studies have shown that those who drink a lot in their teens and early 20s are up to twice as likely as light drinkers to be binge drinking 25 years later.
How can you tell if you’re a binge drinker?
Even if you don't drink alcohol every day, you could be a binge drinker if you regularly drink:
• To get drunk
• More than the recommended daily guidelines in a single session
If you find it hard to stop drinking once you have started, you could also have a problem with binge drinking and possibly alcohol dependence.
Where can you get help with binge drinking?
If you are worried about you’re drinking habits, contact your GP. They will be able to suggest ways to help you cut down your drinking, and can also refer you for counselling or support services.
You can also call Drinkline, the national alcohol helpline, on 0800 917 8282. It’s free and confidential.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a support group for people who are dependent on alcohol. There are branches all over the country. Call 0845 769 7555.
What’s the law on drink driving?
In the UK, the alcohol limit for drivers is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, 35mcg per 100ml
of breath or 107mg per 100ml of urine. In most other European countries, the limit is less,
usually 50mg per 100ml of blood.
How much can I drink and stay under the limit?
There is no foolproof way of drinking and staying under the limit. How much alcohol will push you over
varies from person to person. It depends on:
• Your weight
• Your gender (men tend to process alcohol faster than women)
• Your metabolism
• Your current stress levels
• Whether you’ve eaten recently
• Age (younger people tend to process alcohol more slowly)
What’s the punishment if I get caught drink driving?
Anyone caught drink driving will be banned from the road for at least 12 months, and fined up to £5,000. You can also be sent to prison for up to six months. Imprisonment, the period of disqualification and size of fine depend on the seriousness of the offence. If you’re caught drink driving more than once in a 10 year period, you’ll be banned for at least three years.
Advice and Getting Help
It is important to understand safe guidelines. The NHS advice on drinking is that men should drink no more than 3 or 4 units of alcohol per day, and women should drink no more than 2 or 3 units per day. Even if you don’t drink all week, you cannot ‘save up’ your units and then drink them all in one night.
Drinking more than the recommended daily limit is potentially dangerous. Drinking more than twice your daily limit (six units for women and 8 units for men) on any one drinking occasion qualifies as a ‘binge’. If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, it is best to avoid drinking altogether. If you do choose to drink, restrict your intake to no more than one or two units once or twice per week. If you think you may be drinking above the sensible limits, you should try to take some steps to reduce your consumption. Some suggestions include:
- Make a deliberate decision about how to avoid drinking too much when you are in a potentially heavy drinking situation, either at home or when you are out with friends, at a restaurant, pub or wine bar.
- Look online for more information- the tips and tools at www.drinkaware.co.uk or www.downyourdrink.org.uk are good places to start.
- If you are worried about you’re drinking habits, contact your GP. They will be able to suggest ways to help you cut down your drinking, and can also refer you for counselling or support services.
- Light or moderate drinking does not harm emotional balance. But heavy drinkers who have run into emotional problems are wise to avoid alcohol completely, because previous patterns often recur.
- People prescribed antidepressants, sedatives, analgesics or drugs for epilepsy should avoid alcohol.
- People who have damaged the brain should not drink at all.
- Heavy drinking sessions should be avoided by everyone, at all ages. If you do drink heavily, try to have a balanced diet, and if you do not, take B vitamin supplements.
If you are concerned about any aspect of your own drinking, or your mental health, your GP will be able to help. You can also call Drinkline on 0800 917 8282, a free confidential helpline (open 24hrs a day, 7 days a week) who can point you towards your local alcohol service. You can also call Drinkline if you’re worried about somebody else’s drinking.