The effects of alcohol

So we all know that alcohol is bad for us, but over the Christmas and New Year period all concept of units and sensible drinking seems to go out the window. As a nation we are now drinking more than ever before, so what sort of strain are we really putting on our bodies when we opt for a large wine instead of a small or a double instead of a single?

Alcohol consumption is measured in units, and though we may know exactly how many units our favourite tipple contains, many of us still don’t know how many we are meant to drink (or not drink) or even really understand what a unit really is.

What is a unit?

  • One unit is equal to 8g or about 10ml of pure alcohol
  • All alcoholic drinks sold in the UK must state on the label how much alcohol they contain and most now also display the amount of units.
  • If unit information isn’t given you can work this out yourself by multiplying the volume (in ml) that you drink by the % alcohol content and then dividing your answer by 1000. (E.g your drink states an alcohol content of 14% and you drink 200ml of it, that’s 14 x 200 / 1000 = 2.8 units).
  • The long and short term effects

    1-2 units daily

    On a short term basis the cerebral cortex area of your brain will be affected, meaning you’ll feel more sociable and confident and after two units your driving habits could be affected

    According to the British Heart Foundation, consuming 1 – 2 units daily could offer some protection against coronary heart disease, especially for post-menopausal women. Experts say it works to reduce levels of bad cholesterol in the blood.

    3-4 units daily

    Short term you may feel a little hot and lethargic as alcohol relaxes the blood vessels and emotions and behaviour may be exaggerated.

    Long term, a study published in the British Journal of Cancer revealed that women who regularly drink 3.75 units a day have a 30 per cent increased risk of getting breast cancer. Women who regularly drink two glasses of wine are also twice as likely to have high blood pressure according to statistics from the Department of Health.

    5-8 units daily

    Short term your mental abilities will be significantly impaired and you will lose your license if you’re caught attempting to drive.

    Long term, cancer of the oesophagus (food pipe) is five times more likely, while colon cancer is up to twice as common. Blood pressure will usually be moderately raised and women are at higher risk of osteoporosis.

    15-19 units daily

    Short term, double vision, temporary memory loss, aggression and slurred speech are common. Heart attack risk is increased as the blood pressure will be significantly elevated.

    Long term liver cirrhosis can be expected in up to 30 per cent of people drinking at this level.

    20+ units daily

    This is considered a fatal alcohol dose and could result in hospitalisation if it hasn’t already. The life expectancy for someone continuing to drink at this sort of level is likely to be weeks or months, as opposed to years.

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    Emma Hilton

    Written by Emma Hilton

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