Drinking too much

Be careful how much you drink

The short term risks of excess drinking are well known and include alcohol poisoning, passing out and loss of memory, unprotected sex, and increased risk of being a victim of crime and of course the inevitable hangover.   

Prolonged abuse of alcohol over the years causes many life threatening conditions, including heart disease, haemorrhagic stroke, cancers of the liver, breast and of the mouth and throat, and cirrhosis of the liver.

Most people enjoy drinking and find it a sociable and relaxing thing to do. Normally drinking sensibly leads to no harm and is compatible with a healthy lifestyle. But there are times when drinking too much - or at all - can cause problems. For example don't:

  • Drink and drive
  • Operate machinery, use electrical equipment or work at heights after drinking
  • Drink heavily while playing sport
  • Drink while on certain medications - ask your doctor if you are unsure
  • Binge drink - it can lead to health and other problems

Drinking and driving

The best advice is not to drink and drive but to nominate a driver for the evening, or to arrange a taxi/transport to take you home. The UK has some of the toughest penalties on drink driving in the world. If you're caught over the limit you face an automatic ban of 12 months and a possible fine of up to £5,000 and/or six months in prison. In the UK the legal limit for driving is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. The amount of alcohol in your bloodstream is known as your BAC (blood alcohol concentration).

Men and blood alcohol concentration
A man's BAC will generally increase by 20mg for each standard drink. A man's liver will break down approximately one unit (such as 1/2 a pint of lager) an hour. Drinking with food slows the absorption of alcohol into your body.

Women and blood alcohol concentration
A woman's BAC will generally increase by between 20mg to 30mg for each standard drink. A woman's liver will only break down 3/4 of a unit an hour.

Drinking and driving abroad
It is important to check drink drive limits when abroad, most of Europe has a lower drink drive level than the UK of 50mg with Sweden and Norway only tolerating 20mg.

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Binge drinking

Binge drinking is the most harmful way of drinking - that is drinking lightly, or perhaps not at all during the week, and then 'saving up' consumption for heavy bouts of drinking at the weekend, often on an empty stomach. Recent surveys show that people who binge (that is over 5-6 drinks or 40-48g alcohol at a time) negate the protective effect of alcohol against coronary heart disease - even if moderation is practised at other times.

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A hangover is where one develops headache, nausea, vomiting, lethargy, and a dry mouth due to excessive alcohol consumption. It is due to dehydration, especially of the brain which temporarily shrinks. The reason one becomes dehydrated is because of the osmotic pressure and diuretic effects of alcohol. The way to prevent a hangover is to drink less alcohol and drink plenty of water or soft drinks whilst consuming alcohol. It is advisable to start a meal or a party with a soft drink then have one after each alcoholic drink.

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Alcohol and diabetes

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disorder in the blood level of insulin, a pancreatic hormone, that helps convert blood glucose into energy. Binge drinking increases the number of diabetes cases among women and there is a link between amount of alcohol consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in diabetics.

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Alcohol and cancer

There is no doubt that prolonged excessive consumption of alcohol, especially when combined with smoking and obesity, leads to an increased risk of several cancers, notably of the throat, larynx, liver, upper digestive tract and breast.

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Alcohol, heart disease and stroke

Binge drinking, which is considered to be the consumption of more than 6 standard drinks per drinking session, is seen to significantly increase systolic blood pressure, which significantly increases the risk of coronary heart disease or stroke.

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Alcohol and allergies

There are some harmful effects one can suffer from consuming alcohol, other than those suffered from straight abuse or excessive consumption. These harmful effects are those due to allergy and side effects in general, even with exposure to the smallest amounts of wine.

Many consumers think that the main cause of allergy in wine is due to sulphur dioxide (SO2), a natural preservative. Unless you have a similar reaction when eating dried fruits, such as apricots, this is unlikely as SO2 levels will be much higher in the fruits than in wine. What is more likely is a reaction either to the histamines or tannins, both of which are found in grape skins.

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For more information

Find out more about alcohol and your health:

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