Published Mon, 2012-02-13 17:32; updated 38 weeks ago.
What’s a unit of alcohol?
One unit is 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol.
That’s the amount in a 25ml single measure of spirits (ABV 40%), a third of a pint of beer (ABV 5-6%) or half a 175ml glass of red wine (ABV 12%).
Can drinking a little be good for you? Evidence suggests that a regular pattern of drinking small amounts of alcohol can reduce the risk of heart disease in men over the age of 40 and post-menopausal women.
No more than one to two units a day is needed.
Scientists don’t yet understand how alcohol is able to produce this particular protective effect, but there are a number of possible mechanisms.
As alcohol also has harmful effects, it isn’t recommended that non-drinkers should start drinking for their health. Eating more healthily and exercising also reduce the risk of heart disease, have other benefits that you wouldn’t get from drinking alcohol and have fewer risks.
What’s binge drinking? ‘Bingeing’ is drinking heavily all in one go – usually meaning enough to get drunk or to be substantially impaired.
Researchers refer to drinking more than eight units of alcohol for men and more than six for women, on any one day or any one episode as binge drinking.
This is a useful marker for binge drinking levels but doesn’t define them. Everyone varies in their tolerance for alcohol.
The important thing is to avoid drinking until you feel drunk.
Binge drinking is part of the drinking culture for some people in this country, including many young people.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you have a drink problem, but it’s a major factor in accidents, violence and anti-social behaviour.
Can I overdose on alcohol?
As we all know, drinking too much in one session can make you sleep very heavily, which can be risky in itself.
But it can also lead to alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal due to, for example, suppression of breathing or inhaling vomit.
Can drinking make me fat?
Your alcoholic drink can contain a lot of calories, so it can add to weight gain.
You can cut the calories you’re drinking by:
- Making longer drinks with low-calorie or calorie-free mixers
- Alternating alcoholic drinks with low-calorie non-alcoholic ones
- Alternating pints with half pints
- Having a small glass of wine instead of a pint of beer: this has around half the calories (alcohol-free beers are high in sugar and not low in calories!)
Can drinking cause sexual problems?
Men may suffer from temporary impotence (brewer's droop) after drinking.
Long-term heavy drinkers might also suffer from: Loss of libido and impotence
Shrinking of the testicles
Reduction in penis size
Reduced sperm production
Loss of pubic and body hair
Enlargement of the breasts (as a complication of cirrhosis)
Can drinking cause mental health problems?
There’s a strong link between heavy drinking, depression and suicide.
UK studies show that 39% of men and 8% of women who attempted suicide were chronic problem drinkers.
Alcohol had been consumed before 70% of attempted suicides by men and 40% of attempted suicides by women.
Alcohol works as a depressant drug on your nervous system.
This effect (feeling sleepy, etc) grows as you drink more but the initial disinhibiting effects of alcohol can accentuate pre-existing mood problems.
Long-term excessive drinking can lead to problems with mood.
While problem drinking may not cause depression, its effect on your personal circumstances (relationship problems, unemployment, etc) can make it more likely.
Both depression and problem drinking are common problems, so they can just coincide.
Heavy drinking can be associated with anxiety, and this can be a feature of early or worsening dependence, particularly in the mornings.
Heavy drinking may accelerate or uncover an existing psychiatric illness like psychosis because of its widespread effects on the brain.
Is it dangerous to mix alcohol with other drugs?
Alcohol can be very dangerous when taken with other drugs, especially other nervous system depressants (barbiturates, minor tranquillisers such as Valium, etc) or with recreational drugs, such as ecstasy and cocaine.
It is an important factor in drug-related deaths.
If I have a drink problem, does that make me an alcoholic?
Not everyone who has a drink problem is an alcoholic.
Some people may not drink all the time, but when they do, they get very drunk.
- You (or someone you know) could have a problem if:
- you get drunk regularly
- you can't stop once you've started
- you're drinking more than before
- you're losing interest in other things because of drink
- you're drinking alone
- you're making excuses to drink
- you're letting people down as a result of drinking
- you smell of alcohol during the day
- you feel guilty about drinking
- you get the shakes in the morning
If you’re worried about your drinking levels, you can check them yourself with our self-assessment test.
What are the treatments for drink problems? This depends on the type of problem.
Options range from providing simple information to help in recognition there may be a problem, which may be all that is needed; to brief advice on possible options; to help in completely stopping (achieving abstinence); or help in cutting down.
Heavy drinking may mean there you have an underlying problem, such as financial or relationship difficulties, so help with those issues may be needed.
If you’re worried about your drinking, finding it difficult to cope on your own or getting withdrawal symptoms, there’s plenty of help and support.
Visit your local alcohol help centre (listed in your telephone directory), call 0800 876 67 76 (textphone 0800 027 4114) or visit your GP.
If you’re a heavy drinker who suffers alcohol withdrawal symptoms, NEVER stop drinking suddenly.
Instead, cut down a little and get medical advice immediately.
Alcohol Concern works to reduce the incidence and costs of alcohol-related harm and to increase the range and quality of services available to people with alcohol-related problems.
Telephone: 020 7922 8667.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a voluntary fellowship of men and women who help each other achieve and maintain sobriety by sharing experiences and giving mutual support.
Regular weekly meetings are held in all parts of Britain.
Telephone (local rate): 0845 769 7555.
Alcoholics Anonymous Family Groups are a fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics who provide support for people affected by someone else's drinking.
Due for review August 2013