Alcohol acts as a depressant on the nervous system, creating a ‘high’ or relaxed state in the drinker and a release from inhibitions. Alcohol has been the described as the world’s favourite drug and the drug associated with the greatest level of harm; in 2014, there were 8,697 alcohol-related deaths registered in the UK (Scotland registered the highest number of deaths). Alcohol abuse also places significant strain on public services, it is estimated that 70% of people attending A&E during the weekend have alcohol-related issues.
How much alcohol is safe to drink?
Drink is measured in ‘units’ and the liver breaks down alcohol at the rate of about one unit (8g of alcohol) an hour. The Royal Colleges of Physicians, Psychiatrists and General Practitioners recommend that men should not drink more than 21 units of alcohol a week, and women 14 units a week. The Department of Health’s sensible drinking guidelines say that daily alcohol intake should not exceed 3-4 units (men) or 2-3 units (women).
Continued drinking at the upper limit is not advised, and at least two alcohol-free days a week should be observed, particularly after an episode of heavy drinking.
How much is a unit?
An alcohol unit roughly equates to half a pint of standard strength (3.5%) beer, lager or cider, one standard measure of spirit/liqueur or half a 175ml glass of wine. The alcohol content will depend on the size of your drink and glass and the alcohol concentration of the particular wine and beer.
When does alcohol become a problem?
Many people are able to drink occasionally without problems and a small amount of certain types of alcohol (e.g. red wine) have been shown to provide some health benefits. However, prolonged and heavy drinking can lead to dependency and alcoholism. As with any addiction, alcoholism is toxic not only to the individual’s health, but also to one’s personal relationships and careers.