Most people in the UK drink alcohol. According to an NHS Information Centre report (2008), 72 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women reported drinking an alcoholic drink on at least one day in the week. Twelve per cent of men and seven per cent of women reported drinking on every day in the previous week. But when does drinking become more than just a pleasurable way to socialise or wind down after a busy day, and what harm can it do to you in terms of your health?
If you drink alcohol sensibly, it is considered perfectly safe and, for most people, it is enjoyable too. Whether or not you misuse alcohol depends on how much and how often you drink it.
The problem is that many people are confused about how much alcohol is considered a sensible, or moderate, amount.
Every year, 150,000 people in England are admitted to hospital and 22,000 people die prematurely due to alcohol related causes. The cost to society has been estimated at over £20 billion.
- How much should I drink?
- Binge drinking
- What makes a unit of alcohol?
- What are the serious consequences of alcohol misuse?
- What are the most common health problems caused by drinking too much?
- How do I know I have a problem?
- What help is available?
- What treatments are there?
How much should I drink?
You don't have to be an excessive drinker to develop problems with alcohol - experts believe that drinking just over guideline limits on a regular basis will harm your health.
According to guidelines set up by the government in 1995, the daily recommendation for alcohol intake in the UK is that men drink no more than three to four units of alcohol a day regularly and women drink no more than two to three units.
In England, nine per cent of men and six per cent of women reported chronic drinking behaviour - that is, they are dependent physically, psychologically and/or socially on alcohol.
Binge drinking is defined as drinking more than twice the recommended daily amount in a single session (for men, that's eight or more units of alcohol at a time and for women it's six units or more).
According to the latest statistics, around a third of men and a fifth of women in reported drinking over the weekly recommendations, while 23 per cent of men and 15 per cent of women reported binge drinking in 2006.
Binge drinking behaviour was greatest among younger age groups in 2006. Around 30 per cent of men aged 16 to 44 reported drinking over eight units, compared with six per cent of those aged 65 and over. For women, 26 per cent of those aged 16 to 24 reported drinking over six units, compared with only two per cent of women aged 65 and over.
What makes a unit of alcohol?
A unit of alcohol is defined as 10 millilitres (eight grams) of pure alcohol. So the number of units in any alcoholic drink depends on how much pure alcohol it contains (how strong it is) and the size of the measure.
The strength of an alcoholic drink is measured as the percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV) - so, the greater the percentage, the stronger the drink.
As a general guideline, a unit is the equivalent of half a pint of beer, lager or cider of normal strength (3.5 per cent ABV), a small glass (125ml) of wine (nine per cent ABV) or a standard single measure (25ml) of spirits (40 per cent ABV).
What are the serious consequences of alcohol misuse?
Apart from the short-term effects, such as loss of inhibitions, poor physical co-ordination, slurred speech and blurred vision, possible weight gain, dry skin, bloodshot eyes and broken veins, drinking too much alcohol can cause far more serious, long-term health problems.
In 2006/07, there were 57,142 admissions to NHS hospitals with a primary diagnosis of an illness or disease that was specifically related to over-consumption of alcohol. Of this figure, 69 per cent were males, while nine per cent involved young people under the age of 18.