Alcohol and your health

Most of us know that drinking too much can cause health problems but do you know what effect alcohol has on your body, or how much is too much? Just last month NHS figures revealed that alcohol-related hospital admissions have reached a record high, doubling in less than a decade.

Effects of alcohol
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So before you crack open that bottle of Pinot or head down the local for a post-work pint, take a look at the alcohol effects, risks and recommended limits you should know about.

From the moment that first drink passes your lips, alcohol begins affecting your mind and body. You may feel more relaxed and happy, sometimes even euphoric. But alcohol is in fact a depressant. As the drinks slip down, the alcohol starts to affect the part of the brain that controls judgement - you begin to lose your inhibitions and, eventually, your physical co-ordination will suffer.

It also causes dehydration, irritates the stomach and slows both the brain and the central nervous system's processes... hence your morning after headache, sickness, lethargy and missing memories. The liver needs approximately one hour to deal with one unit of alcohol - worth bearing in mind if you need to drive the morning after an evening in the pub.

Though these symptoms will often disappear over the course of the day, the longer-term effects can be much more serious.

According to the NHS, alcohol is the second biggest risk factor for mouth and throat cancers (only smoking carries a greater risk). Cirrhosis of the liver is also commonly caused by drinking too much over a long period of time - by scarring the liver, which is essential to many bodily functions such as excretion of waste products and metabolism of carbs, proteins and fat, the effects of alcohol can prove life threatening. The risk of developing breast cancer is also increased in women who drink more than three units per day.

But the risks don't stop there - there is evidence to suggest that heavy drinking increases the risk of pancreatitis, heart disease, diabetes and depression, as well as causing weight gain, memory loss, fertility problems, stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal complaints.

Know your limits
The NHS recommends that women should consume no more than two to three units of alcohol a day while men should drink no more than three to four units. However, it is also advised that everyone should have at least two or three alcohol-free days each week. The NHS advises that pregnant women should avoid alcohol altogether.

It is widely agreed that one unit amounts to 8g of alcohol - in real terms, that means half a pint of 3.5% AVB beer, cider or lager, a single pub measure of spirits, half a 175ml glass of wine or a standard pub measure of sherry or liqueur.

With this in mind, it is important to remember that glass sizes may vary from pub to pub and we are often more generous with the measures when drinking at home.

Cutting down
It's clear that many of us drink too much but there is no need to cut out alcohol altogether. Moderation is the key and there are simple ways in which we can cut our daily consumption.

For example, if you are planning an evening out, try to set yourself a limit in terms of alcohol. Taking a fixed amount of money may help, and opting for a small glass rather than the largest available will help you to be aware of how many units you are consuming. Alternating alcohol with soft drinks will also reduce your intake and keep you hydrated, and eating will slow the absorption of alcohol, helping you to stay in control.

On a day-to-day basis, try to cut back just a little each day and ensure that you keep a couple of days alcohol-free each week.

If you are seriously concerned about your own drinking or that of a family member or friend, call Drinkline on 0800 917 8282 for free help and advice.