The drinking of alcohol is often viewed as a normal social activity and part of everyday life. Many adults will relax and unwind with a glass or two of their favourite alcoholic beverage, either after work in the evenings, or on the weekends. It is often viewed as a small personal reward for working hard, and a pleasant way to achieve a feeling of relaxation. As along as sensible levels of consumption are observed and respected, drinking alcohol is perfectly acceptable and enjoyable.
Daily guideline amounts, as recommended by the National Health Service, are 3-4 units per day for a man and 2-3 units per day for a woman. To illustrate what this might represent, one unit is equal to: half a pint of regular beer, lager or cider; one small glass (125ml) of wine; or 1 single measure (25ml) of spirits. It must be noted however, that stronger beers and wines are going to be worth additional units; for example, a 440ml can of super strength lager is equivalent to four units, which is the maximum level for a male. To consume a bottle of wine, depending on the strength, you are looking at about 9 units.
In comparison to Public Houses, alcohol is relatively cheap to buy at the supermarket or local off-licences, and so many people now choose to drink at home instead. The generosity of drink measures, however, can easily be over-estimated at home. Domestic glassware measures may not be obvious and easy to monitor, and there is also a tendency to be a little more lavish when you know that the alcohol represents good value for money. The resulting outcome is that many people will unwittingly exceed their daily guideline units, or may even go further, and finish the bottle or the last can, just because it is not really worth leaving.
According to the Department of Health (2007), 24% of people in the UK are drinking heavily, either through regular drinking or binge drinking. As these people are not addicted to alcohol, they will probably not be concerned about their drinking levels, when actually they probably should be. Their short term risks may include loss of consciousness, accidents or injuries, or alcohol poisoning (potentially fatal); while their long term risks may include cancers, heart disease, liver disease or brain damage, such as memory loss or dementia.
Heavy drinkers may also start to put on weight, as alcohol is very calorific. They may also start to age prematurely, as alcohol is not good for the skin, as it dehydrates the body; and alcohol will affect the quality of a person’s sleep, with them often missing out on the deep REM stages of the sleep cycle. Coupled with a smoking habit, which is often a common accompaniment to a heavy drinking habit, the effects upon health and personal appearance are going to be even worse.
Alcohol is a depressant, and so heavy alcohol consumption is often linked to poor mental health. A depressed person who drinks will initially feel elated, but afterwards they will feel more depressed than before. To feel better again, they are likely to reach for another drink, and so the vicious cycle will negatively repeat itself. If a person is suffering with depression, it really is advisable to avoid alcoholic drinks altogether, as they are not going to aid with recovery.
It is worth knowing that one unit of alcohol will take roughly one hour to be metabolised by the body, and so after a heavy night’s drinking, many people will still be over the drink-drive limit in the morning. Driving when over the limit may cost you your licence and your job. In extreme circumstances, it may even cost your life or someone else’s.
This all seems really negative, but this is precisely why daily guideline unit recommendations were initially formulated. To enjoy alcohol safely, take note of the guideline amounts, the size of drinks and their alcohol content. It is always best to eat when drinking, or at least to eat prior to drinking. It is sensible practice to alternate alcoholic drinks with water or a soft drink, as this helps to prevent dehydration and to limit consumption.
For further information, some good sites are:
Drink Aware, the Facts
NHS Choices, Drinking and Alcohol