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Drinking alcohol sensibly: Key messages

It's important to note that most people who have an alcohol related health problem, aren’t alcoholics.  They've simply regularly drunk more than the recommended level for a number of years.


The NHS advises

  • There's actually no safe level of alcohol consumption

  • The alcohol unit guidelines are the same for men and women, with both being advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week

  • If you regularly drink more than the recommended units, you risk damaging your health

  • You should spread your drinking across three or more days, if you regularly drink up to 14 units a week

  • Try to cut down by having several drink free days every week

How much is one unit?

  • 218ml of cider (4.5%), which is less than half a pint

  • 76ml of wine (13%), which is less than half a standard glass

  • 25ml of a single spirit (40%), which is one shot

  • 250ml of beer (4%), which is less than half a pint

  • 250ml of an alcopop (4%), which is less than a bottle




The effects on health

  • People who regularly drink or binge drink and exceed the NHS' recommended unit guidelines, often don't see any harmful effects to begin with.  Alcohol’s hidden harms usually only emerge after a number of years and, by then, serious health problems may have already developed

  • If you drink to or below the recommended levels, you can help reduce the risk of some of the harmful effects of alcohol, such as liver problems, reduced fertility, high blood pressure and increased risk of cancers and heart attack

  • The alcohol effects on people’s health will vary, depending on the individual and how much they drink, although it's safe to say that the more you drink, the greater health risks you'll face

The benefits of cutting down

If you reduce the amount you drink, there are a number of immediate benefits, including:

  • Feeling better in the morning

  • Being less tired during the day

  • Your skin may start to look better

  • Starting to feel fitter

  • A reduced calorie intake

Mood

There’s a strong link between heavy drinking and depression with hangovers often making people feel anxious and low.  For those who already feel sad or anxious, drinking can make these feelings worse, so cutting down could help improve an individual's mood.

Sleep

Drinking can affect people’s sleep and although it can sometimes help people to fall asleep more quickly, it disrupts their normal sleep pattern and prevents them from sleeping deeply.  If an individual cuts down on the amount they drink, it should help them feel more rested when they wake up.

Behaviour

Drinking can affect a person's judgement and behaviour, so they may become more irrational or aggressive when they're drunk.  It can also increase risk taking behaviour such as crime, anti-social / embarrassing behaviour or unprotected sexual activity.  Memory loss is also a problem associated with drinking, especially in the long term for regular heavy drinkers.  

Heart

Long term heavy drinking can lead to a person's heart becoming enlarged.  This is a serious condition which can’t be completely reversed, although stopping drinking can prevent it from getting worse. 

Immune system

Regular drinking can affect people’s immune systems and heavy drinkers tend to catch more infectious diseases.


Additional information

Take a look at the Talk Community Directory alcohol page, where you can also download a copy of the drinking alcohol sensibly leaflet.