Alcohol and sensible drinking

For many people, having a drink is a way to celebrate or enjoy social times with friends and family.   But it can be tricky to understand and remember how much alcohol is in each drink and how this can affect our health.

No-one can say that drinking alcohol is absolutely safe, but by sticking within published health guidelines, you can lower your risk of harming your health.  The guidelines recommend

  • You are safest not to drink regularly more than 14 units per week, to keep health risks from drinking alcohol to a low level
  • If you do drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread this evenly over three days or more. If you have one or two heavy drinking sessions, you increase your risks of death from long term illnesses and from accidents and injuries
  • The risk of developing a range of illnesses (including, for example, cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases with any amount you drink on a regular basis.
  • If you wish to cut down the amount you’re drinking, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days each week

Medical experts advise women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.  Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, and the more you drink the greater the risk.

What is a unit?

Different drinks vary hugely in the amount of alcohol they contain.  A single drink can be anything from 1 unit to 4.5 units, depending on the size, strength and type of drink.  Put simply, one drink does not just equal one unit.  If you choose drinks that have higher amounts of alcohol, then as few as four drinks in a week could mean that you are drinking above the guidelines.

One unit is 10ml (or 8g) of pure alcohol. The amount of alcohol in a drink is described as “ABV “, which means alcohol by volume.

You can work out how many units there are in a drink by multiplying the total volume of a drink (in ml) by its ABV, and dividing the result by 1000.

So if you want to work out how many units in a standard 175ml glass of wine which is 13% ABV:

Units =   175 (ml) x 13 (ABV)    =    2.3 units

There are tools available to help you to do the calculations for  you, which show how much you are spending, and the units and calories  that you are consuming.  Try the One You drinks tracker app, or the Drinkaware site for more apps and other tools.

It takes an average adult around an hour to process one unit of alcohol so that there is none left in their bloodstream, but this can vary from person to person. 

There is nothing that you can do to speed up the rate that alcohol leaves your system, as it depends on the enzymes in your liver working on breaking down the alcohol. If you know that you are going to be driving the next day, then check out Drinkaware’s tips to make sure that you are not putting yourself and others at risk by driving with alcohol still in your bloodstream.

Cutting down on alcohol

Once you start keeping track of your drinking, you may be surprised to find that you are drinking more than the recommended guidelines. This can lead to serious health problems, from liver damage to a greater risk of cancer or heart attack.

There are some easy ways to cut down, such as making simple swaps when you are out, or having a couple of drink-free nights each week. Try the One You drinks tracker to keep an eye on what you are drinking and take control with daily tips and feedback.

Alcohol dependency

You may have reached this page because you are worried about how much you are drinking, or have a concern about a family member or friend. Many people find it best to speak to their GP for advice.

If you live in Havering, you can also speak to the local drug and alcohol treatment service  for advice.  If someone is dependent on alcohol, they can experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop drinking, so it is really important to seek medical advice.

Remember that you don’t always have to be drinking to extreme levels to become dependent on alcohol.

Anyone who is drinking regularly can have a degree of alcohol dependency. According to Dr Nick Sheron, a liver disease specialist, alcohol dependency operates on a spectrum “at one end of the scale you have people who are mildly dependent,” he says, “people who, for example, can’t conceive of a Friday night without having enough drinks to get a bit tipsy. 

At the other end, you have people where alcohol is more important than their jobs, their families, than pretty much anything, including being alive”.

You can avoid becoming dependent by making sure that you have several drink-free days a week, as recommended by the Chief Medical Officer .

Children and alcohol

An alcohol-free childhood  is the healthiest and best option for a child, as alcohol can have a serious effect on their development.  As a parent  you have much more influence over your child than you may realise, and there are actions that you can take that can help your child to develop a sensible relationship with alcohol, including talking to your child and agreeing rules and boundaries.

Set up an account with Drinkaware, the independent charity working to reduce alcohol misuse and harm in the UK, and download the free leaflet Your kids and alcohol.

Young people and alcohol

Wize Up is a free and confidential service which is based at Elm Park Children’s Centre. They work with young people under 18 whose lives are affected by substance misuse, mental health issues and offending. Young people, their parents/carers or professionals such as teachers or social workers working with them, can refer into the service by phoning 01708 451110, emailing WizeupHavering@cgl.org.uk or visiting the Change, grow, live website​.

Alcohol and weight gain

Many people are surprised at just how many calories are in alcohol.  So, for example, a pint of lager contains the same amount of calories as a slice of pizza.  That’s because alcohol is high in sugar.  Try the free Drinkaware app  to track units and calories in your drink.   If you are concerned about your weight, find out more about local support for managing weight gain.

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