Sunday January 22, 2017
Many people enjoy a drink, but it is important to understand alcohol and to know how much you’re drinking. There is a lot of information available about ‘guidelines’ and ‘limits’ and ‘units’, but what does all that actually mean?
Our private doctors at LDC are here to help you understand a bit more about alcohol, how much is too much, and the bad affects it can have on your body (apart from making you feel rubbish in the morning).
There is a lot of talk about ‘units’ when discussing alcohol and how much to have, but what exactly is ‘one unit’?
One unit is 10mL (or 8 grams) of pure alcohol.
Every can or bottle of an alcoholic drink will have the number of units it contains written on it, but you can also work out how many units something contains yourself. To do this you simply multiply the % alcohol by volume (%ABV) of a drink by its volume in litres.
For example, a 25mL (0.025 litres) measure of 40% vodka contains 1 unit of alcohol (0.025 x 40=1). Here is a list of the number of units in a few common drinks:
- Pint of 3.5% beer: 2 units
- Pint of 5% beer: 2.8 units
- Can of 5% beer: 2.2 units
- Can of super strength lager: 4 units
- 175mL glass of white wine: 2.1 units
- 250mL glass of white wine: 3 units
- 25mL measure of spirits: 1 unit
There are also many online alcohol unit calculators, which are a useful tool in calculating units.
One 25ml measure of 40% alcohol is the equivalent of one unit of alcohol
Recommended Limits of Alcohol
Weekly Alcohol Limits
The current government guidelines in the UK are that both men and women should have no more than 14 units per week.
Additionally, it is advised that people should not binge drink.
A binge is classed as a man drinking more than 8 units in one go, or a woman drinking more than 6 units in one go.
This means that if a man drinks 3 or more pints of 5% beer in one sitting then it is a binge. Importantly, it is also strongly advised that women should not drink while pregnant, as it can be very harmful to the developing baby. Finally, it is also recommended that on at least 2 days every week you should drink no alcohol to give your body a rest from dealing with the damage that even small amounts of alcohol can cause.
Just three 175ml glasses of wine is over 6 units of alcohol - above the threshold for 'binge drinking' for women
Calories in Alcohol
While it is obvious that drinks like beer and wine contain alcohol, and a lot of people understand that there are risks of drinking too much alcohol, a lot of people do not realise that alcoholic drinks can contain a surprisingly high number of calories.
A single gram of alcohol contains 7 calories, which is almost as many calories as a gram of fat, and these calories have no nutritional value (they are 'empty calories'). This means that a large glass of 13% wine (250mL) contains 228 calories, as many as an ice cream!
Even a single measure (25mL) of a spirit like whiskey or vodka contains around 100 calories, and if you like to drink spirits with a sugary mixer like coke or lemonade then the calories you’re drinking can accumulate very quickly!
What Are The Risks of Alcohol?
There is a lot of evidence that there are many risks behind drinking alcohol (especially in excess). The main risks include liver damage that can eventually lead to cirrhosis and even liver cancer, and damage to your cardiovascular system, increasing your risk of conditions such as heart attacks and strokes. Damage to your liver can be measured by means of a liver function test.
There is also evidence that drinking even a small amount increases your risk of a number of cancers, including mouth and throat cancer.
Alcohol also makes you much more likely to take risks in your behaviour, while also slowing your reactions and making you more clumsy. For these reasons being drunk increases your risk of having an accident, and it is important to never drink more than the legal limit of alcohol and drive a vehicle or even ride a bicycle.
Additionally, alcohol is very addictive, so regular drinking can lead to you becoming dependent on alcohol to function properly in everyday life.
Alcohol is not only dangerous to your health, but to others too: drink driving kills or injures an average of 3,000 people per year in the UK
Are There Any Benefits of Drinking Alcohol?
The risks of alcohol are well known, but are there any benefits? There is some limited evidence that drinking small amounts of alcohol can have some health benefits.
For example, it is possible that drinking in moderation reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. However, this benefit may only apply to a very specific group of people: women over the age of 55 who drink under 5 units a week.
Alcohol is a very addictive substance. The NHS estimates that in the UK around 9% of men and 3% of women are to some extent dependent on alcohol. Continuous heavy or even moderate drinking can lead to addiction and being unable to function without having a drink.
This seriously increases the risk of having alcohol-related health problems, so it is important to be alert for signs of alcohol dependence. There are a number of questionnaires that can be used to check whether your level of drinking may be problematic, for example this this questionnaire.
If you or someone close to you thinks that your level of drinking may be a problem then you should consider reducing the amount you drink. The easiest way to do this is to have a couple of days a week where you do not drink any alcohol. If you think you might be drinking too much or dependent on alcohol you should search for a "GP near me", as they can advise you on how best to cut down.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a glass of wine with dinner, or a pint of beer with your friends a couple of times a week. It is, however, important to be aware of how much you’re drinking and be careful not to drink too much. As with many things in life, alcohol should be enjoyed in moderation. If you're at all worried about alcohol consumption, why not visit one of our eight central London private clinics. And, as always, if you need any other GP services, you know where to find us!
By Hugh Johnson