Alcohol and Drinking Sensibly

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alcohol selection - beer, wine, cocktails and shortsAlcohol can be good for you - it's true! In moderate amounts, alcohol has been shown to reduce the risk of cardio vascular disease in both men and women. It may also reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes. In this instance, a "moderate amount" is thought to be one or two units per day for men, and no more than one unit per day for women - for more details visit Harvard School of Public Health. Red wine is thought to be particularly beneficial at raising the good and lowering the bad cholesterol.

Unfortunately, there are many people in the UK who drink so much alcohol that they are definitely endangering their health.

Current UK Guidelines

The current safe limits for alcohol are that men should drink 3 units or less per day and women should drink 2 units or less per day. This is a change from the previous 14 units a week for women and 21 units per week for men, as it is considered damaging to "save up" the units then binge drink them on a Friday night (or a Saturday night).

Drinking in Pregnancy

There has been much debate in the media about this issue recently. In the UK, the official UK Government advice is that it is safe to drink up to four units of alcohol a week whilst you are pregnant. However, in France it is recommended that you drink no alcohol whilst you are pregnant.

Researchers carried out a "startle" test on foetuses at 25 weeks gestation. At that age, most foetuses respond by jumping when a buzzer is placed on their mother's tummy. It was shown that statistically significantly fewer babies of mothers who had drunk only small amounts during the pregnancy passed this test, leading to a conclusion that even small levels of alcohol can affect the development of the central nervous system in the unborn child. Extrapolating from this finding, it could be that many cases of autism are related to the mother drinking whilst pregnant.

Therefore, I would recommend that if you are pregnant, don't drink any alcohol at all. Why take the risk?

How much is one unit of alcohol?

One unit is equivalent to:

  • one small glass of wine that is 8% alcohol by volume (ABV) - you would get 6 of these from a standard 750 ml bottle of wine. Note that many wines are 12% ABV and accordingly a glass of a stronger wine would be equivalent to 1.5 units of alcohol.
  • a small measure (eg from a pub) of a spirit or a fortified wine
  • half a pint of normal strength beer, cider or lager (4% ABV). Note that premium lagers such as Budweiser and Hoegaarden are nearer to 5% ABV or more and will contain nearer 1.5 units of alcohol per half pint.
  • Alcopops are similar in strength to premium beers.

In case you are interested, here is a formula to work out exactly the number of units of alcohol in your beverage.

Units = ABV (%) x ml in bottle

One pint is 568ml

The negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption

Short term, alcohol impedes your judgement, causing you to become less inhibited. It also affects your motor skills, vision and speech. Larger quantities will cause you to vomit. In some cases it leads to death through:

  • Suffocating on your vomit
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Being a factor in a road accident
  • Being a factor in a crazy stunt

Long term abuse includes the risk of: cirrhosis of the liver, cancers of the digestive system, loss of brain function, cardio vascular and other diseases, infertility and permanent erectile dysfunction.

The current guidelines from the Department of Health can be found here.