See your doctor or practice nurse if you are drinking above the safe limits and are finding it difficult to cut down.
What are the recommended safe limits of alcohol drinking?
- Men should drink no more than 21 units of alcohol per week (and no more than four units in any one day).
- Women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week (and no more than three units in any one day).
- Pregnant women. The exact amount that is safe is not known. Therefore, advice from the Department of Health is that pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant should not drink at all. If you do choose to drink when you are pregnant then limit it to one or two units, once or twice a week. And never get drunk.
In general, the more you drink above the safe limits, the more harmful alcohol is likely to be. And remember, binge drinking can be harmful even though the weekly total may not seem too high. For example, if you only drink once or twice a week, but when you do you drink 4-5 pints of beer each time, or a bottle of wine each time, then this is a risk to your health. Also, even one or two units can be dangerous if you drive, operate machinery, or take some types of medication.
What is a unit of alcohol?
One unit of alcohol is about equal to:
- half a pint of ordinary strength beer, lager, or cider (3-4% alcohol by volume), or
- a small pub measure (25 ml) of spirits (40% alcohol by volume), or
- a standard pub measure (50 ml) of fortified wine such as sherry or port (20% alcohol by volume)
There are one and a half units of alcohol in:
- a small glass (125 ml) of ordinary strength wine (12% alcohol by volume), or
- a standard pub measure (35 ml) of spirits (40% alcohol by volume)
But remember, many wines and beers are stronger than the more traditional ordinary strengths.
About 1 in 3 men, and about 1 in 7 women, drink more than the safe levels. Many people who drink heavily are not addicted to alcohol, and are not alcoholics. To stop or reduce alcohol would not be a problem if there was the will to do so. However, for various reasons, many people have got into a habit of drinking regularly and heavily. But, drinking heavily is a serious health risk.
You should regularly talk to your children about the risks of alcohol in a way that is appropriate for their age. If you feel your child is having a problem with alcohol, talk to your GP as there are services now available for young people.
If you drink heavily you have an increased risk of developing:
- Liver problems
- Stomach disorders
- Pancreatitis (severe inflammation of the pancreas)
- High blood pressure
- Sexual difficulties such as impotence
- Mental health problems
- Muscle and heart muscle disease
- Some cancers
Drinking alcohol is associated with a much increased risk of accidents. In particular, injury and death from fire and car crashes. About 1 in 7 road deaths are caused by drinking alcohol.
If you are alcohol dependent you have a strong desire for alcohol and have great difficulty in controlling your drinking. In addition, your body is used to lots of alcohol. Therefore, you may develop withdrawal symptoms 3-8 hours after your last drink as the effect of the alcohol wears off. So, even if you want to stop drinking, it is often difficult because of withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms include: feeling sick, trembling, sweating, craving for alcohol, feeling unwell. As a result, you may drink regularly to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
Further resources and sources of help
Drinkline - National Alcohol Helpline
Tel: 0800 917 8282
Offers help to callers worried about their own drinking and support to the family and friends of people who are drinking. Advice to callers on where to go for help.
A charity which aims to change the UK's drinking habits for the better. Drinkaware promotes responsible drinking and finds innovative ways to challenge the national drinking culture to help reduce alcohol misuse and minimise alcohol-related harm.
PO Box 1 10 Toft Green, York, YO1 7ND
Helpline: 0845 769 7555 Web: www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk
There are over 3,000 meetings held in the UK each week with over 40,000 members. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.
AL-Anon Family Groups
61 Great Dover Street, London, SE1 4YF
Tel: 020 7403 0888 Web: www.al-anonuk.org.uk
Offers support for families and friends of alcoholics whether the drinker is still drinking or not.
Department of Health
The DOH alcohol misuse page includes information on the National Alcohol Strategy, and policy and advice on sensible drinking and the prevention of alcohol misuse.