The effect of alcohol on your health depends on how much you drink. Simply put, the more you drink, the greater the chance of developing alcohol-related problems or long-term health conditions.

If you do choose to drink, to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, the UK Chief Medical Officers’ advise that it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. In the long-term, drinking alcohol on a regular basis increases the risk of developing a range of illnesses such as cancer, stroke, heart disease, liver disease and damage to the brain and nervous system1

There are short term risks too – drinking alcohol increases the risk of having an accident resulting in injury, misjudging risky situations or losing self-control2.  

However – there are ways that you can keep your risk of alcohol-related harm low. Cutting back and drinking within the low risk guidelines can help you avoid health problems and keep you looking and feeling your best.

Keeping your risk low

The UK Chief Medical Officers’ advise that people should not regularly drink more than 14 units a week to keep health risks from alcohol low. If you do choose to drink, it is best to spread your drinks evenly throughout the week. If you wish to cut down the amount you are drinking, a good way to do this is to have several drink-free days per week.

The more you drink, the greater the risk of alcohol related-harms. So if you are regularly exceeding the low risk unit guidelines, your risk of short and long term alcohol-related harms increases. 

As the graph above shows, when drinking increasing levels above the low risk guidelines, women are more likely to experience alcohol related harms compared with men who are drinking the same amount.

Your risk from alcohol harm is also influenced by how you drink – if you are spreading your drinking evenly across the week you face lower risks than if you are ‘saving up’ your drinks for one or two heavy drinking sessions.

Alcohol is one of many factors that can influence your health. The environment and other lifestyle factors such as the amount and type of food you eat and how much exercise you do1, .

We are currently developing a tool which will allow you to calculate more accurately the average risk for a person drinking like you. We’ll link to it from this page when it’s available (June 2016).

Alcohol and single occasion drinking

To keep short-term risks low, keep your drinking on a single occasion drinking to a low level. Here are some ways to keep the risk low:

  • Limit the total amount of alcohol that you drink on any one occasion.
  • Drink more slowly, alternate drinks with water and drink with food
  • Avoid risky places and activities, making sure you are with people that you know and that you know how to get home safely.

Some of the short term harms that can happen include accidents resulting in injury (causing death in some cases), misjudging risky situations, and losing self-control3.

Alcohol and pregnancy

Drinking alcohol at any stage during pregnancy can cause harm to the baby and the more you drink, the greater the risk. This is why the government recommend that the safest approach is to not drink alcohol at all during pregnancy. If you are pregnant or think you may become pregnant, you are also advised not to drink.

If you are now pregnant and drank alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy in most cases it is unlikely that the baby has been affected, but you should avoid further drinking. However if you are worried, you should talk to your doctor or midwife.  

For help or further information

If you tell your GP about your drinking they can help you figure out if you should make any changes, and offer help and advice along the way.

If you’re concerned about someone’s drinking, or your own, Drinkline runs a free, confidential helpline. Call 0300 123 1110.

Alcoholics Anonymous: If you need help with a drinking problem, you can phone the Alcoholics Anonymous national helpline on 0800 9177 650 or email help@alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk  www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk

Addaction: For all general enquiries and concerns, you can email Addaction on info@addaction.org.uk. To find your nearest service in England or Scotland, visit the “Find a service” section of the website www.addaction.org.uk 

 

References

(1), (2), (4), Department of Health, Alcohol Guidelines Review – Report from the Guidelines development group to the UK Chief Medical Officers (2016). Available at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/489797/CMO_Alcohol_Report.pdf

(3) Parkin, D. M., Boyd, L. & Walker, L. C. (2011). 16. The fraction of cancer attributable to lifestyle and environmental factors in the UK in 2010: Summary and conclusions. British Journal of Cancer, 105, S77-S81. Available at:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22158327