If I don’t feel drunk, I don’t have a problem – do I?
Alcohol tolerance can lead someone with a dangerously high consumption to be falsely reassured that as long as they don’t feel drunk, they will be fine.
In fact, the exact opposite is true.
If you need a lot of alcohol to get drunk then you are already drinking too much, too often. If you have developed a tolerance for alcohol, you can no longer trust your body’s signals to tell you when you’ve had too much. That’s why it’s essential to keep count of how many drink you have, so that you know when you’ve drunk too much.
The alcohol content of drinks is measured in ‘units’. One unit is 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol. The number of units in any drink is related to the strength of the alcohol content (the concentration) and to the volume of the drink.
A single (35ml) shot of spirits contains roughly the same amount of alcohol as a small (125ml) glass of wine. This is about the same amount of alcohol (1.4 units) as is contained in a half pint of normal strength beer.
If you’re not sure how many units you drink you can use this handy calculator, which will tell you not only the number of units of alcohol but also the calorific content.
Did you know that adding 3 or 4 units per day to your usual diet would lead to an increase in weight of around 4lbs in four weeks? With seven calories per gram, alcohol has almost the same calorie content as pure fat. Beer, lager and cider are the most calorie laden drinks, with some brands containing 250 calories per pint ( the equivalent of a small chocolate bar). Drinking 10 pints of beer or cider in one night, means that a man could be consuming a whole day’s worth of calories just in alcohol. For women, the picture is even worse as they would be consuming in excess of their recommended calorie intake.
The NHS advice on drinking is that men should drink a maximum of 3 or 4 units of alcohol per day, and women should drink a maximum of 2 or 3 units per day. (This does not mean that it’s okay to drink this amount every single day, it’s an indication of the maximum amount that your body can reasonably be expected to deal with at any one time.)
Many people think that it’s okay to not drink during the week and then binge at the weekend. Drinking more than twice your daily limit (six units for women and 8 units for men) is potentially dangerous.
The danger in excessive drinking is even greater for women than it is for men. As women are generally smaller than men they metabolise alcohol at a different rate. Women have a proportionally higher ratio of fat to water than men and so are less able to dilute alcohol within the body. They will therefore tend to have a higher concentration of alcohol in their blood than men after drinking the same amount.
Women’s livers also produce less of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase which the body uses to break alcohol down. Because of this, women generally get drunk quicker than men, and stay drunk for longer.
This means that drinking large amounts of alcohol is potentially more harmful to women than it is to men.
Women appear be more prone to serious diseases like cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis after a comparatively shorter period of heavy drinking than men. And as well as serious health risks, women who drink heavily are also putting themselves at risk of a range of health and personal problems, including depression, disturbed sleep and compromised personal safety.
Your ability to process alcohol can also decrease with age so when you drink, due to changes in the body that develop with age such as a decrease in body water content and an increase in body fat content. This means that there is a higher concentration of alcohol in your blood. Older drinkers are also more likely to feel the effects the following morning. Even from the age of 20 onwards, lean body mass (muscle) also reduces, leading to higher blood alcohol concentration for the same amount of alcohol consumed.
Alcohol and calories
Alcohol has no nutritional value, and although it can be high in calories it causes a drop in your blood sugar levels making you feel more hungry. This is why restaurants will always offer you a drink (usually alcohol) and give you plenty of time to peruse the menu before you order. How many times have you ordered far more food than you could eat because the alcohol had made you feel extra hungry?
Spirits, wine and light beer and light cider have less calories than regular beer and cider. A single vodka and coke, rum and coke or gin and tonic is 120 calories, while a shot (25ml) of whisky is around 55 calories. A medium-sized glass of wine (175ml) contains about 125 calories, although a bottle would be over 500 calories.
Many people are unaware of the calorie content in their drinks and this is highlighted in the latest NHS alcohol campaign. The campaign shows that alcoholic drinks often contain the same calorie content as certain kinds of unhealthy food. Remember that the comparisons are for one drink only and should be multiplied according to the number of drinks you might have.
When you remember that alcohol makes you more hungry and that you often eat more than you really need, your calorie intake can sky rocket. Which in itself can lead to all the problems linked to obesity.
The average wine drinker will put on half a stone of weight in a year if they don’t burn off the excess calories.
The average wine drinker now consumes 2,000 extra calories a month – the equivalent of 184 bags of crisps.
Large glass of medium strength dry white wine = 190 calories. Same as two and a half digestive biscuits.
Bottle of medium strength dry white wine = 570 calories. Same as chicken with cashew nuts and egg fried rice.
A bottle of average strength red wine = 644 calories. Same as 14 Jaffa cakes or McDonald’s cheeseburger and medium fries.
Half a bottle of average strength red wine = 313 calories. Same as a Snickers chocolate bar.
Beer & cider
The average beer drinker consumes five pints of medium strength lager a week, which mounts up to around 44,200 calories a year – the equivalent of 221 doughnuts.
One pint of strong lager = 330 calories. Same as a 4oz fillet steak.
One pint of average strength lager = 200 calories. Same as one packet of crisps.
One pint of premium lager = 250 calories. Same as a small chocolate bar.
One pint of cider = 200 calories. Same as one fried chicken drumstick.
One shot (25ml) of vodka or gin = 55 calories. Same as a 25ml serving of single cream
Large Bailey’s (100ml) = 320 calories. Same as a Snickers Bar.