For many people, a glass of wine with an evening meal or with friends is seen as a pleasant way to help us relax and enjoy ourselves. Whilst drinking within the Government’s suggested guidelines is generally regarded as having no ill effect on your health, there are several health risks associated with drinking too much alcohol.
So what is too much?
The recommended guidelines are 21 units of alcohol a week for men and 14 units for women. Which means no more than 3 units a day for men and 2 units for women.
More than one in 25 adults are dependent on alcohol, and the UK has one of the highest rates of binge drinking in Europe with 31% of men and 20% of women drinking more than the recommended guidelines. Alcohol consumption is estimated to be a contributory factor in at least 33,000 deaths in the UK each year.
How does alcohol affect you?
Drinking alcohol causes a number of changes in your body. As the alcohol gets into your brain, your thinking can be affected and whilst you may feel more at ease and talkative you might also lose the thread of what you are saying.
Alcohol slows down your brain processes. After drinking just 3 to 4 units, where the level of alcohol in the bloodstream is around 50mg per 100ml, the effect on men’s driving skills is measurable. Women can reach this same concentration by drinking just two or three units. This is because most women are smaller than men and metabolise alcohol more slowly. Women have a proportionally higher ratio of fat to water than men and are therefore less able to dilute alcohol within the body.
As alcohol levels in the blood rise, it makes small blood vessels in the skin expand, allowing more blood to flow closer to the surface making you feel warmer.
Despite what many people believe, alcohol is a depressant and not a stimulant. Which is why drinking too much often leads to impaired judgement, slurring of the speech, a tendency to violent behaviour and loss of short-term memory. You may wonder what you did the night before, feel guilty or low.
Alcohol irritates the stomach so can cause sickness and nausea, and sometimes diarrhoea. Because it causes dehydration, excessive drinking can lead to a hangover. It can also lead to temporary impotence in men. Alcohol dries out your skin, and if you drink heavily you may develop rosacea, a skin disorder that starts with a tendency to blush and flush easily and can progress to facial disfiguration, a condition known as rhinophyma.
The principal cause of a hangover is ethanol, which is the alcohol in your drink. Ethanol is a toxic chemical that works in the body as a diuretic, causing the headache, dry mouth, dizziness and constant nausea. Your hangover eases as the body turns the ethanol into a less toxic chemical. Darker drinks give you worse hangovers – there are chemicals in their dark colourings called congeners. Mostly found in red wine, brandy and whisky, congeners irritate blood vessels and tissue in the brain. A hangover can leave you struggling to concentrate, irritable and sensitive to light for a prolonged period after your last drink.
If you do have a hangover, you are best to drink plenty of water, avoid tea and coffee and of course alcohol.