Are you drinking too much alcohol?
Whilst some people may consider alcohol as an essential part of life, the reality is that not everyone drinks. So if you prefer not to for whatever reason that’s absolutely fine; you will likely find other many like-minded people who share this preference.
If you do choose to drink alcohol, drinking in moderation can be an enjoyable and (usually) harmless feature of life. It helps you relax, and that can break the ice when meeting people or friends. But like all good things, you can have too much. When you realise that alcohol is like any other drug, it becomes easy to understand why we should all stay within the correct dose range.
The Official Advice
It is safest not to drink in excess of 14 units of alcohol a week .
If you regularly drink 14 units per week, it’s best to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days to reduce health risks.
In fact, the more you drink the greater the risk to your short and long-term health.
The NHS defines binge drinking as “drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time or drinking to get drunk”.
The Office of National Statistics defines binge drinking as having over 8 units of alcohol in a single session for men and over 6 units for women.
You might disagree with these definitions, but a good way to tell if you are a binge drinker is if you: regularly drink 14 units of alcohol or more in a single session; and/or tend to drink very quickly; and/or sometimes or always drink with the intention of getting drunk.
As well as the long-term impact of binge drinking to your physical health, short-term health issues caused by accidents and injuries are common because excessive alcohol consumption affects your balance and co-ordination. In extreme cases, you could die. Excessive levels of alcohol consumption leads to alcohol poisoning and this can stop you breathing or stop your heart, or you could choke on your own vomit. Find out more about alcohol poisoning.
Binge drinking can also affect your sleep, mood, cognitive functioning and your memory and, in the longer term, can lead to serious mental health problems. Binge drinking can lead to anti-social, aggressive and violent behaviour.
Whilst regular binge drinking is more harmful, even just occasional binge drinking sessions can be damaging.
Find out more about the health effects of alcohol.
If you think you might be drinking too much, take the Drink Aware self-assessment.
Drinking to alter mood
Many people regularly consume alcohol to alter their mood. This might be because they believe it helps them to relax, increases their levels of confidence, reduces their levels of anxiety, offers a form of escapism or helps them to get to sleep.
In reality, alcohol consumption doesn’t really do any of these things very well and it can often actually make you feel worse rather than better. Alcohol is linked to depression, aggression, increased anxiety, disturbed sleep and instead of reducing the impact of unpleasant or unwelcome thoughts, feelings or experiences, it often simply exacerbates them.
There is some helpful information about the impact of alcohol to our mental health on the Drink Aware site.
Benefits of reducing drinking
There are lots of benefits to cutting back on booze. Whilst a key advantage will be a reduced risk to your health, there are lots of others too:
- Improve brain performance: improve concentration, focus, motivation and avoid missed deadlines and poor performance at work or in exams.
- Stay healthier for longer: Cutting down on alcohol can reduce your chances of suffering from serious health harms such as: alcohol related cancers, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, pancreatitis and reduced fertility.
- Increased energy: Once you start cutting back you will probably notice the benefits quite quickly; Feeling better in the mornings, having more energy, feeling less tired during the day and your skin may start to look better.
- Feel in better shape: Too much booze can really pile on the pounds. If you drink 10 pints a week, you could be taking in more than 120,000 calories a year. So if you cut back you’ll start to feel in better shape.
- Have better mood: drinking undoubtedly affects our mental health. Cutting down will at the very least prevent any existing mental health difficulties being further exacerbated, at best it may actually improve your mood.
- Sleep more soundly: Alcohol can disrupt your sleep patterns and stop you from sleeping deeply. Cutting down on alcohol should help you feel more rested when you wake up.
- Have better sex: Whilst many think that alcohol is an aphrodisiac, too much alcohol actually reduces sexual sensitivity and performance and can put a dampener on your sex drive.
- Save money: By cutting down on how much you drink you will have more money to spend on other things. If you cut out a couple of large glasses of wine a week you could save over £400 a year.
Drink Aware - effects of alcohol
How to reduce your drinking
If you think you might want to cut down the amount you are drinking, a good way to do this is to have several drink-free days per week. Other ways to reduce alcohol consumption:
- Limiting the total amount of alcohol that you drink on any one occasion
- Drinking more slowly and avoiding rounds
- Alternating drinks with water
- Drinking only with food
- Drinking on a full stomach
- Drinking low-alcohol drinks or mocktails/virgin cocktails
- Tracking your drinking on the go
- Opting for smaller measures – half pints of beer or small glasses of wine, or spritzers/shandies (be wary of home-poured measures – get a spirit measure!)
- Taking a complete break for a defined period – e.g. Dry January
- If you’re drinking at home, measure your drinks rather than free pouring and try and pour your own drinks rather than let someone else top you up so you can keep track of what you’re drinking.
Get more advice about reducing your drinking
Sign up to the MyDrinkaware dashboard to help you cut down drinking
Download an app to remind you to have a few days off drinking
If you want to give up alcohol completely, find some practical tips to help
Myths about alcohol
There are lots of myths around alcohol and drinking, so much so that it is sometimes hard to know what to believe, but being informed about the facts is the best way to make sure that you drink safely:
Drinking water can lessen the effects of a hangover.
TRUE: While food and water may ease some of the symptoms, they won’t cure a hangover. The best way to avoid one is to moderate your drinking and have water between alcoholic drinks. Remember that water won’t make you any less drunk or protect your liver.
A cold shower, fresh air or hot coffee will sober someone up.
FALSE: You might feel less sleepy, but only time will get alcohol out of your body. Depending on your weight, it takes about one hour to process one unit of alcohol.
Alcohol is fattening.
TRUE: There can be almost 200 calories in a large glass of red wine. And any sugar in mixers or cocktails comes on top of the alcohol content of the spirits. Alcohol also reduces our self-control, making it easy to eat too much.
Alcohol is a stimulant.
FALSE: Alcohol is actually a depressant. Initially, you may feel more energetic or cheerful because alcohol depresses your inhibitions. However, that means you can also be less able to control your emotions or reactions.
Beer gets you less drunk.
FALSE: An average pint of beer (ABV 5%), large glass of wine (250ml, ABV 11%) or a ‘large’ double vodka (70ml, ABV 38 to 40%) all have around 2.8 units of alcohol. This is what makes you drunk chemically, and the faster you drink the full 2.8 units, the higher your peak blood level. But there are a wide range of factors that can affect how drunk you feel including your expectations.
Lining your stomach with a big meal before drink can help to reduce the risk of getting drunk.
FALSE: Drinking on a full stomach before you go out will delay alcohol getting into your system, not prevent it. A meal will only delay the rate of alcohol absorption, but if you go on to drink heavily you will get drunk. However, it’s still best to eat a proper meal before a night out, especially foods rich in carbohydrates and proteins.
Switching between beer, wine, and spirits will make you more drunk.
FALSE: Your blood alcohol content is what determines how drunk you are. Mixing drinks may make you sicker by upsetting your stomach, but not more intoxicated.
Your body develops a tolerance to alcohol, so you can safely drink more.
FALSE: The more you drink the more damage your body will sustain and the greater the risks become. Tolerance can actually be seen as a warning sign that your body has started to be affected by alcohol.
Drinking more than a glass of wine a day may reduce your chances of getting pregnant.
TRUE: Women who drink a lot find it more difficult to conceive. A study reported by the British Medical Journal found that as few as five drinks every week may decrease a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant.
White wine is a good choice for a person who wants a light drink with less alcohol.
FALSE: A glass of white or red wine, a bottle of beer and a shot of whiskey or other distilled spirits can all contain equivalent amounts of alcohol, depending on actual drink size and strength and will give similar readings on a breathalyzer.
Drinking too much alcohol can reduce male fertility.
TRUE: Alcohol decreases fertility by its effect on sperm quality and quantity. Men trying for a family may want to consider reducing their overall alcohol consumption.
If you do choose to drink, then here are some good tips on how to keep yourself and others safe whilst drinking.
Read more about alcohol, sex and consent.
Spot the signs of addiction.
Effects of alcohol animation.