Alcohol – The Facts
Did you know that alcohol shrinks your brain? That is what causes the dehydration and your thumping headache the morning after a heavy night.
Or that as many as 33,000 people in the UK die from alcohol related causes each year? That is ten times as many people as die on the roads every year.
Health Facts and Figures
Too much drinking can cause …
- Stomach disorders, such as ulcers and gastritis
- Cancer of the mouth, throat and gullet
- Liver-damage and cirrhosis – watch the video about liver disease >
- Sexual difficulties & loss of sex drive
- High blood-pressure
Problems with the nervous system, including pains in the legs and arms
For men, regular heavy drinking can …
- Shrink your genitals
- Lower your sperm-count
- Make you lose body-hair
For women, regular heavy drinking can …
- Damage an unborn child
- Increase your risk of breast-cancer
- Make you less fertile
- Make your periods irregular
Facts and figures about Alcohol and the Human Body
Alcohol and liver-disease
- In Scotland, between 1997-98 and 2003-04, the number of general-hospital patients admitted with alcoholic liver disease rose by 41%. - Source: NHS Scotland
- Alcohol-induced liver-disease accounts for over half of all liver-disease in the UK. - Source: British Liver Trust
Alcohol and weight-gain
- By drinking 12 rums and coke per week you consume 2880 ‘empty’ calories.
Alcohol and cancer
- After smoking, drinking alcohol is the biggest risk factor for cancers of the mouth and throat. The risk of breast-cancer in women increases by about 7% for each additional drink taken every day. - Source: Cancer Research UK
- Approximately 2-in-5 men and 1-in-7 women drink alcohol hazardously.
- Approximately 1-in-8 men and 1-in-24 women in Scotland have some degree of alcohol dependence.
- Young people aged between 16-24 drink more than any other age group in Scotland.
Source: Scottish Executive
Alcohol and the NHS
- In 2003, an estimated 42,780 patients attended a GP in Scotland with an alcohol-related problem.
- In 2004-05, there were 40,448 discharges from acute general-hospitals with an alcohol-related diagnosis. This discharge rate has increased by 17% since 2001.
- Every year, dealing with the effects of alcohol on our health is estimated to cost the NHS £110.5m. This does not include the work of the emergency services.
Source: Scottish Executive
Alcohol and sick-days
- in 2001, sick-days caused by alcohol-misuse were estimated to have caused the Scottish Economy £184m in lost productivity. - Source: Scottish Executive
What’s in a drink?
In the real world, alcoholic drinks come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and strengths. So how can we tell how strong each drink is?
Once upon a time . . .
It used to be a lot easier to work out how much drink you were getting. A pint of beer used to equal two units, a shot of spirits one unit. Nowadays beers, lagers and wines are all generally stronger and spirits are commonly sold in measures that are over a unit and . . .
Stop right there! What is a unit?
In the UK a unit is 10ml of pure alcohol.
Why this amount?
It’s all to do with how our bodies deal with alcohol. On average, healthy adult bodies can break down 10ml of alcohol in one hour. So, if you drink 10ml of alcohol, 60 minutes later there shouldn’t be any left in your bloodstream.
Where does the alcohol go?
The liver breaks most of it down, though a small amount escapes through the skin, on the breath and in our urine.
So what does ‘ABV’ mean?
ABV stands for Alcohol By Volume. All pre-packaged alcoholic drinks must state how strong they are. Strength is shown as the percentage of the drink that is pure alcohol, with the letters ABV after this percentage. For example, most popular wines today are around 13% ABV, beers around 3.8% ABV, so wine is typically more than three times stronger than beer.
Advice on ‘sensible drinking’ talks about units, so how does this work?
To find out how many units are in a drink, you need to know
- its strength, as the ABV number on the bottle or can.
- its volume, in millilitres (ml) from the bottle or can.
Most packaged drinks state their volume in millilitres (ml), but bottles of spirits and wine often state their volume in centilitres (cl). To get from centilitres to millilitres, simply stick another zero on the end. So, 75cl = 750ml.
To find out how many units of alcohol are in a drink:
- Multiply the volume (in millilitres) by %ABV.
- Then divide the result by 1000.
- The number you are left with is the number of units in the bottle or can.
Remember – On average, home measures are twice the usual amount in a pub.
- No more than 2-3 units daily (max.14 weekly) for women.
- No more than 3-4 units daily (max. 21 weekly) for men.
- At least one day per week without any alcohol.
Did you know?
- The Governments daily guideline is 2-3 units for women and 3-4 for men.
- Alcohol is estimated to be responsible for 33,000 deaths in the UK each year.
- The UK has one of the highest rates of binge-drinking in Europe.
- About 11m people in the UK regularly drink more than the guidelines.
- Alcohol is not a stimulant, it is a depressant.
- Up to 1-in-3 adults are at risk of alcohol-related liver-disease.
- Drinking after a workout can cancel out any gains.
- Drink 3 double gin-and-tonics every day and you will put on up to 4lbs in 4 weeks.
Alcohol dependence, mental health and wellbeing
If you drink large quantities of alcohol regularly, you run the risk of becoming alcohol dependent, when you will find it hard to live day-to-day without having a drink.
You may find yourself drinking more and more alcohol, and planning your life around ways to find the next drink. Feeling a compulsive need to drink and being unable to stop drinking once you start are also signs of alcohol dependence.
Your tolerance for alcohol may increase, so you may need to drink larger and larger amounts of alcohol to feel its effects.
Alcohol dependence often does not have a single cause, but can be the result of a number of different factors, of which stress is often a major part.
Facts and Figures
It is estimated that one in 17 people (6.4%) in Great Britain are dependent on alcohol. The World Health Organisation defined alcohol-dependent individuals as those exhibiting a range of behaviours, including the strong desire to drink alcohol to the point that it takes precedence over all other behaviours, persisting in drinking despite negative consequences, and physical withdrawal symptoms.
Mental health and wellbeing
Apart from affecting your mental health, alcohol also affects your memory and brain function. Soon after drinking alcohol, brain processes slow down. For example, the effect on men’s driving skills is measurable after the consumption of three to four units. At this level of consumption, alcohol is in the bloodstream at around 50mg per 100ml. Women can reach this same concentration by drinking just two or three units.
Anxiety and depression
- Self-harm and alcohol are often linked. In 2006, a survey carried out among 3,004 self-harming patients at Scottish accident-and-emergency departments found that 62% of males and 50% of females reported consuming alcohol immediately before or while self-harming. 27% of men and 19% of the women cited alcohol as the reason for self-harming.
- It has been estimated that alcohol plays a part in up to 65% of suicides in the UK.
- Extreme levels of drinking (e.g. more than 30 units per day for several weeks) can occasionally cause ‘psychosis’, a severe mental illness where hallucinations and delusions of persecution develop. Psychotic symptoms can also occur when heavy drinkers stop drinking suddenly and develop a condition usually known as the DTs (delirium tremens, which means ‘the shaking madness’).
Memory and brain function
- Drinking 8-10 units per day for extended periods causes mental inefficiency. At 11-14 units per day, deficits (reduced brain capacity) are apparent. At 18 or more units per day, harm can be of the severity seen in someone diagnosed with alcoholism.
- The human brain is still developing until the age of 18 or 19, so a young brain may be more susceptible to damage than the adult brain. In adolescents who regularly drink alcohol, parts of the brain important in planning and emotional control have been found to be smaller than expected.
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