The need for safer drinking has been put firmly back into the spotlight recently with the national news reporting that Britain is the addiction capital of Europe.
In 1987, when alcohol guidance was published, it was set out as a maximum advised number of units per week, which was 21 for men and 14 for women.
However, studies published in the early 1990s suggested a small amount of alcohol might be good for the heart. This led to a reframing of the guidance as a daily intake: no more than three to four units a day for men and two to three for women.
Those who drink the maximum every day are therefore well above the earlier limits.
Alcohol’s hidden harms usually only emerge after a number of years. And by then, serious health problems can have developed.
Liver problems, reduced fertility, high blood pressure, increased risk of various cancers and heart attack are some of the numerous harmful effects of regularly drinking above recommended levels.
The effects of alcohol on your health will depend on how much you drink. The more you drink, the greater the health risks.
Lower-risk drinking means that you have a low risk of causing yourself future harm. However, drinking consistently within these limits is called ‘lower-risk’, rather than ‘safe’, because drinking alcohol is never completely safe.
NHS recommendations for lower risk drinking state that:
l men should not exceed 3-4 units a day on a regular basis
l women should not exceed 2-3 units a day on a regular basis
Pregnant women or women trying to conceive should not drink alcohol. When you drink, alcohol reaches your baby through the placenta.
Too much exposure to alcohol can seriously affect your baby’s development. If you choose to drink, do not drink more than 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice a week, and do not get drunk. This will minimise the risk to the baby.
Safer drinking is something we all need to put into practice. Most people who have alcohol-related health problems aren’t alcoholics. They’re simply people who have regularly drunk more than the recommended levels for some years.
There’s no guaranteed safe level of drinking, but if you drink below recommended daily limits, the risks of harming your health are low.
Don’t save up your weekly unit “allowance” for the weekend as drinking larger amounts in a small space of time is more damaging to your health than drinking moderately during the week.
If you are concerned about your drinking, discuss it with your GP. For further information visit www.nhs.uk/Livewell/alcohol