Thursday July 14, 2016
Us Brits love a good alcoholic bevvy, with pubs and pints deeply engrained in our culture. Celebrations wouldn’t be as congratulatory without champagne; restaurant meals wouldn’t taste the same without good wine; student halls wouldn’t have the same entertaining atmosphere without that cheap vodka; even Santa needs that sherry to get him through the Christmas eve shift!
Fondness for alcohol can bring people together, across generations and cultures, turning strangers into friends. It's not necessarily always a bad thing, so long as it's in moderation. However, it’s not moderate drinking that has earned us the unfortunate reputation as Binge Drinking Britain, it's our tendency to drink to excess.
The definition of binge drinking is drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time, or drinking to get drunk. But how much is ‘lots’? Over six or eight units of alcohol in one session, for men and women respectively, to be precise.
“Pshhhh, I rarely have eight drinks in one session” I hear you say. Well actually, most standard drink in a bar or pub are at least two units’ worth.
One single large glass of 13% wine is worth approximately 3 units. By that logic, just two large glasses of wine for a woman is verging on binge drinking.
One pint of 4% beer is worth two units. So just four pints in one session for a man is also considered binge drinking. Now that sounds a bit more familiar, doesn’t it?
1 unit of alcohol - it's not much!
Binge drinking isn’t a regular reality for just the students across the country, according to the office for national statistics, in 2013 around 19% of 25-44 year old's admitted to binge-drinking at least once in the previous week.
The government guidelines recommend that men and women drink a maximum 14 units a week, across at least 3 days. That’s the equivalent of six pints of beer, or six medium (175ml) glasses of wine.
Long-term effects of excess alcohol consumption
Many of us simply brush off these government alcohol guidelines as recommendations. We've all heard the usual excuses: “but those are just recommendations, they’re probably just being over-cautious”, or “I might’ve gone slightly over this week, but I’ll just drink a bit less next week…”. However, the sinister reality of excess alcohol consumption is not a laughing matter, and can include a range of dangerous diseases, such as:
- Liver diseases, including Cirrhosis (scarring)
- High-blood pressure
- Multiple different cancers
Alcohol misuse can also have devastating social implications, potentially contributing to:
- Financial difficulties
Even in the healthy, alcohol can interfere with and worsen a variety of conditions. Did you know, many alcohols contain histamine, the chemical responsible for the body’s allergy symptoms? Therefore alcohol can exacerbate allergies such as hay fever!
So how do we take responsibility for our long-term alcohol consumption?
Firstly, awareness is imperative. How much do you really drink? There are a variety of online self-assessment tools that can help give a realistic impression, such as this one on drinkaware.co.uk.
Now you’ve acknowledged your true alcohol consumption, perhaps it’s time to start cutting back on the booze – perhaps try replacing your regular drink with another containing less alcohol? Or avoiding certain situations that you KNOW will undoubtedly result in one too many drinks, an expensive bar tab, and a horrible hangover the next day.
If you’re struggling for ideas, GP's are full of helpful suggestions and tips for lifestyle changes. Our GP's have successfully guided many, many patients onto healthier paths, tackling lifestyle issues such as weight management and alcohol reduction. What works for one person may not work for another, and GP’s are great at working with patients to ensure any necessary life-style changes are reasonable and realistic.
But how much damage have your drinking habits caused, over the years? This is where most patients plead ignorance, burying their heads in the sand. It’s not clear to assess from a simple physical examination, nor is patient history usually sufficient in estimating the body’s health. The gold-standard test to assess the effects long-term alcohol consumption is a liver function test (LFT).
As you may know, the liver is the organ responsible for breaking down and removing alcohol from the body. Thus it’s the liver that bears the brunt of the damage from alcohol. One simple blood test can give an accurate impression of the liver’s health, by measuring a range of proteins and enzymes, including:
- ALT (Alanine Aminotransferase)
- AST (Aspartate aminotransferase)
- Total protein, ALP (Alkaline phosphatase)
- Gamma-GT (Gamma-glutamyl transferase).
An elevation in any of these elements could indicate liver damage, or cirrhosis. Detecting these warning signs early can inspire a change of behaviour to avoid potential irreversible damage, or prevent or minimise further damage.
At London Doctors Clinic, we provide this liver function blood tests for just £62.40. The whole process, including a thorough discussion with the GP, as well as interpretation of test results usually costs as little as just £120. The laboratory can process blood samples in just 4-hours, with results even available same-day, should patients visit us early enough in the day.
So if you have any concerns regarding the long-term effects of your alcohol consumption, don't hesitate in booking a GP consultation today.