The effects of alcohol on your health

Monday, February 24, 2020

You might see Go Sober for October being advertised on the TV or on advertising boards dotted around town every year, but how much should we be turning our attention to our alcohol consumption and is it something we should always be mindful of? Are you fully aware of the effects of alcohol on your health, your body and mind?

We’re taking a look at the long-term effects of alcohol on our bodies and what the recommended weekly units are that we should be sticking to.

How much should we be drinking?

First introduced in 1987, the counting of units was put in place to help the UK keep track of what they were consuming. The NHS say: “Units are a simple way of expressing the quantity of pure alcohol in a drink.

“One unit equals 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol, which is around the amount of alcohol the average adult can process in an hour.”

The weekly limit for both men and women is 14 units, previous guidelines stated 21 units for men and 14 for women but this changed back in 2016. This in reality means 6 pints of average strength beer a week or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine.

  • Single shot of spirits = 1 unit
  • Small glass of 125ml wine with a 12% ABV = 1.5 units
  • Can of 5.5% lager/beer/cider = 2 units
  • Standard glass of wine = 2.1 units
  • Pint of lager/beer/cider at 5.2% = 3 units

It’s recommended however not to save up your units from the week and consume them all in one session; the guidelines are to spread your 14 units over 3 days or more.

>>Read more on health and wellbeing

Effects of alcohol on the body

There are long-term and short-term effects that alcohol can have on both your physical and mental health when you are regularly drinking too much or binge drinking.

Short-term effects of alcohol

As soon as alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream and starts circulating around your body, various short-term effects can start occurring:

  • Lack of judgement – perhaps making decisions you wouldn’t normally make.
  • Taking risks – increasing your chance of injury.

…and then comes the dreaded hangover the day after:

  • Headache
  • Sensitive to light
  • Feeling and being sick
  • Tiredness and feeling shaky

It can also affect your memory, so it’s common to not remember all that happened the night before.

Long-term effects of alcohol

Drinking heavily for a long period of time can have serious effects on various areas of your health. From both physical to mental, the long-term effects can be severe and sometimes irreversible.

  • Mental health – alcohol alters the chemistry in your brain which can lead to depression or anxiety, also going cold turkey if you’re a heavy drinker can cause hallucinations.
  • Regularly drinking can damage your nerves – problems can occur in the pathways between your body and brain leading to dementia and issues with balance and coordination.
  • Liver damage – as this is where most of the alcohol is processed, excessive drinking causes the toxic chemicals in your liver to build up and ultimately puts strain on the liver to work harder. Regularly drinking too much does increase the chance of liver disease; however, your liver can begin to repair itself if you cut down or stop altogether.
  • Fertility – BUPA say that alcohol affects the fertility in both men and women and can cause “changes in ovulation and the menstrual cycle and, in men, alcohol can reduce sperm production.”

Support if you are alcohol dependent

Advice on the NHS states: “realising you have a problem with alcohol is the first big step to getting help” and that going to your GP and being honest with them on how much you are drinking is a good place to start.

The NHS state that you may need help if:

  • you often feel the need to have a drink
  • you get into trouble because of your drinking
  • other people warn you about how much you're drinking
  • you think your drinking is causing you problems.

Your GP may be able to point you in the direction of local groups or alcohol services that would be able to help and support you.

Many people need longer-term plans in place to help them stay away from alcohol, as maintaining that level of control can be difficult. The NHS has lots of useful contacts on their website to help support people with alcohol problems, as this is something not to go through alone.

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