Alcohol and You


Alcohol and You
Most adults (around 90%) in the UK drink alcohol – whether out with friends or colleagues, at home, celebrating, or after a good or bad day! For most people drinking alcohol can be a pleasure but sometimes it can interfere with your quality of life - whether this means having to deal with hangovers or more serious problems. Whatever the situation, it’s good to be aware of your alcohol intake to avoid overdoing it and to help you stay in control. The health risks of drinking too much are not always something we think about or even realise, but there are simple steps that you can take to ensure that you can enjoy alcohol without it having a negative impact on your life.

This booklet offers practical tips on how to stay in control of your alcohol intake and highlights the hidden health risks associated with drinking too much.

How many units in a drink?
• One 175ml glass of 12% red or white wine = 2 units • One pint of bitter or normal strength lager (3-3.5%) = 2 units • One pint of strong lager or pilsner = 3 units • One single measure (25ml or pub measure) of spirits = 1 unit • One 275ml bottle of alcopop (5.5%) = 1.5 units Tip: check the label as some bottled drinks will tell you the number of units they contain.

What’s my limit?
Sticking within the recommended drinking limit can really help you stay in control and avoid putting your health at risk – which is why it’s good to know what a unit is and how many you are drinking. Safe drinking guidelines are set by the government who recommend that: • men should drink no more than 3 to 4 units a day • women should drink no more than 2 to 3 units a day • If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant it is advised to avoid drinking alcohol. If you do choose to drink, to minimise the risk to the baby, you should not drink more than 1 to 2 units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk. This doesn’t mean that you can save up all your units for the weekend and binge drink as this has health risks. What is safe and sensible to drink also depends on other factors like your medical history and whether you are taking medication. For example, drinking alcohol may interfere with some medicines and cause them to stop working or work less effectively. It may also cause side effects. Always read the label or check with your pharmacist, doctor or practice nurse before drinking alcohol when you are on medication.

Binge drinking
Drinking to ‘get drunk’ or having weekend binges – where you drink no alcohol through the week then drink heavily on a Friday or Saturday – means you are likely to be putting your health at risk (see next page for more information). Binge drinking also increases your chances of being involved in, or causing an accident. One quarter of alcohol related deaths are due to accidents and 40% of all A&E admissions are alcohol related. Alcohol stays in your system for a surprisingly long time (on average it takes the liver one hour to process only one unit of alcohol – like half a glass of wine), so if you’ve had a big night out you may still be over the limit to do things like drive or operate machinery at work the next day. Many accidents at work are alcohol related which is why some employers have an alcohol policy – this could involve alcohol testing – to protect the safety of their employees. If you do get drunk try to avoid alcohol for 48 hours to give your body a chance to recover.

Overdone it?
Getting through the day with a hangover can be a struggle – especially if you’re at work. There are some things that you can do to help yourself feel better and get on with your job. • Drink plenty of water throughout the day as you will be dehydrated. This will help you feel more alert, able to concentrate better and means you are less likely to get a headache. Drinking water before you go to bed may also help. • Take paracetamol – avoid aspirin as this can irritate what might already be a sensitive stomach. • Ask your pharmacist about paracetamol products specifically designed for hangovers which provide headache relief, rehydration and replace lost minerals and salts. • Don’t overload your stomach with heavy food too quickly – especially if you feel sick.

What are the health risks?
The damage caused to your health by frequently drinking too much or binge drinking can have some obvious or immediate symptoms, but the effects can also creep up without you realising. Health risks include: • anxiety and depression • weight problems – alcohol is fattening. One pint of beer/lager contains 160-180 calories which means that even moderate drinking can cause weight problems. The knock on health effects of being overweight include heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke • sexual problems – one of the most common problems for men is temporary impotence (‘brewers droop’) and for women failure to ovulate and period problems cancer – certain cancers, particularly cancers of the mouth, larynx (voice box), pharynx (throat), oesophagus (gullet) and liver can be alcohol related. If you drink and smoke the risk of developing these cancers is even greater. Several studies have also suggested a link between alcohol and breast cancer high blood pressure – this can lead to heart attack, heart failure, stroke and kidney disease liver disease brain damage.

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How drinking affects your looks
The ‘beer belly’ look doesn’t just apply to men, women can develop a beer belly too but, aside from weight problems, drinking too much can take its physical toll in other ways too. It can cause: • skin to dehydrate which causes premature ageing • red, blotchy nose – often known as ‘drinkers nose’ • blood shot/puffy eyes • red or flushed face • red veins around the nose and cheeks.

The good news is that watching how much you drink can reduce your risk of developing serious health problems and there are simple ways to do this and still enjoy yourself at the same time.

Want to cut down?
There are loads of simple ways to cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink whilst still being able to enjoy it, stay in control and reduce your risk of other health problems. • Line your stomach – eating before you drink, or drinking with meals only, will help slow down the rate your body absorbs alcohol. If your stomach is full you may be tempted to drink less. • Dilute your drinks – add more soft drink mixers to spirits. This will make your drinks last longer and save you money. • Pace yourself – start off with water and try to drink it in between each alcoholic drink. • Swap your drink at lunchtime or after work for a non alcoholic one. • Drink slowly instead of knocking them back. • Opt for drinks with low alcohol content – have a normal strength lager instead of a strong one or swap your large glass of wine for a smaller one. • Watch your weight – if you want to stay a healthy weight or need to lose weight try cutting back on alcohol as it is fattening. • Drink water if you are thirsty – particularly in warm weather so you don’t end up trying to quench your thirst with alcohol. • Try to have as many alcohol free days or weeks as you can. • Avoid ‘top ups’ so you can keep track of how much you are drinking. • Decide the maximum number of drinks you’re going to have before you start then keep count so you don’t lose track. • Think about how good you’ll feel the next day if you don’t overdo it. • Visit Alcohol Concern’s website which includes an online program designed to help people cut down and control their drinking.

Drinking too much?
It can often be difficult to tell when your own or someone else’s drinking becomes problem drinking. Signs to be aware of: • trying to hide drinking • drinking simply to cope and get through the day • missing work or unable to function properly at work because of drink • relationship problems with friends, colleagues, family, partners because of drink • becoming angry/defensive when someone discusses drinking • having accidents, fights or arguments because of drink • money problems because of drinking. If you recognise any of these signs either with your own or someone else’s drinking, or you are simply not sure, there are several ways of getting help and advice that you can choose from.

What to do
Speak to a professional • Your practice nurse or GP can offer support and refer you to other services if need be. • If you work, your occupational health department can offer help and advice in relation to alcohol worries or problems. It is good to speak to someone as early as possible to avoid more serious problems down the line. • Your pharmacist can also offer advice about sensible drinking, drinking when taking medication and advise you on over-the-counter medicines to help with hangovers. Remember - anything you tell a health professional will be held in strict confidence. • Some areas have alcohol advisory services where you can self-refer which means you can contact the service directly without having to go through your GP or practice nurse first. To find an alcohol advice or counselling service in your area visit the Alcohol Concern online services directory at

Worried about your own or someone else’s drinking? Call Drinkline on 0800 917 8282 ➜

Help and advice lines
• Drinkline (0800 917 8282) offers help to callers worried about their own or someone else’s drinking (lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week). provides online information about alcohol and sensible drinking. • If you are worried about your own drinking call Alcoholics Anonymous on 0845 769 7555. Calls are redirected automatically to an A.A. member in your region. You may speak in complete confidence. Calls are never monitored and everything you say is kept completely private. All calls are charged at local call rates and help lines are open 24 hours a day. You can also visit

Online information
• The website from Alcohol Concern is designed to help you work out whether you're drinking too much, and if so, what you can do about it. • Advice and information on sensible drinking is available from the NHS Direct Online website at and on NHS Direct Interactive on digital satellite TV – simply press the interactive button on your remote control.

Support for friends and family
• Al-Anon Family Groups UK & Eire offers understanding and support for families and friends of problem drinkers, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not. You can contact their confidential helpline on 020 7403 0888 (10am-10pm, 7 days a week), email or visit

This booklet contains general information produced by DPP: Developing Patient Partnerships which can be used as the first step to help you decide the best course of action to take when you or your family are not well. In the absence of any examination it is not possible to reliably diagnose and treat a medical condition. Diagnosis can only be carried out by a suitably qualified health professional after a consultation. The advice and guidance in the leaflet is the responsibility of DPP. © Developing Patient Partnerships, 2008, Tavistock House, TavistockSquare, London,WC1H 9JP. Registered Charity No. 1075105. Company No.3700340. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form without the permission of the copyright holder.

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