17 November 2018

What’s really the safe amount to drink?

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Recent studies suggest that a few glasses of wine each week is actually better for your health than being teetotal – but how much is a “few”, exactly? And what can you do to ensure you don’t overindulge?

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The news that drinking small amounts of alcohol is better than drinking none at all comes courtesy of a recent study at Queen’s University Belfast. It found that people who drink up to three glasses of beer or wine a week are seven per cent less likely to die or develop cancer, compared to those who abstain.

Another recent study conducted at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health concluded that people who don’t drink alcohol at all are more likely to take sick days off work than those who drink a moderate amount.

From this we know that enjoying a drink now and then is perfectly okay. But… what does “now and then” mean, exactly?

According to the official guidelines, that means no more than six pints a week

The NHS says that men and women should drink no more than 14 units a week – and if you’re consuming all of those units, to spread them over at least three days. This is the equivalent of six pints of average strength beer or seven glasses of wine. And no, it’s not recommended that you save them all up for a trip to the pub on Friday night.

Can men drink more than women?

Biologically speaking, men and women DO process alcohol differently – the average man weighs more than the average women and so has more tissue to absorb alcohol. But men tend to experience more alcohol-related harm than women because, on average, they drink more – plus they have a higher risk of alcohol-related injury in the short term compared to women. The NHS is pretty strict on this – the 14 units goes for both sexes. 

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What happens if I drink more than that?

Drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis and, after 10 or 15 years, you’ll put yourself at increased risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease, liver disease, brain damage and harm to the nervous system, says the NHS. Binge drinkers might also notice some alarming short-term effects, such as blackouts, disturbed sleep, anxiety, stress and memory loss.

My tolerance for alcohol is quite high, so I have to drink more, is that OK?

Drinking more alcohol regularly means your tolerance grows and you’ll find that you won’t feel the same if you drink less. If you’ve got into the habit of regularly drinking more than the unit guidelines, Drinkaware suggests applying a bit of psychology to “see what triggers your desire to drink too much and try to change your response”.

Here’s a few tips for staying within the guidelines:

  • Every time you go to the bar, ask for a pint of water. Not only will it keep you hydrated, the extra liquid will slow you down and fill you up.
  • Try having alcohol only with your evening meal (not as soon as you get home from work). Drinking while eating can also help slow you down – and heighten your enjoyment.
  • Go for a low-alcohol option every now and then. Over the course of a week, units can add up quickly – choosing a low-strength alternative means you’ll consume fewer of them. (And no, this doesn’t mean you can just drink more low-alcohol booze.)
  • Invest in some 125ml wine glasses. If you have a 250ml glass lying around at home, chances are you’re going to fill it right up to the top. That’s more than three units right there.
  • Give your body a chance to reset with some dedicated alcohol-free days each week. Put them in your diary in the same way you might schedule dinner with friends. 

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