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The effects of alcohol on health

People drink alcohol for many different reasons, in various situations and different moderations. Drinking is very much a culture for many, and they have been brought up to believe that drinking alcohol is a normal daily/weekly occurrence and that there is nothing wrong with “having a few drinks”.

Unfortunately, alcohol can be highly addictive for some people and habits can be formed quite quickly. It may disturb or shock some people to hear that drinking a bottle of wine in an evening after work could be considered the behaviour of a borderline functional alcoholic.

For many people, drinking a glass or two of wine at the end of a long workday to unwind and feel less stressed can become a habit and may get out of control if they feel the need to drink to feel better. Drinking more than 2 standard drinks a day can have a significant impact on long-term health. It can lead to dependence or addiction to alcohol and this can be increased with people suffering from depression and anxiety. The long-term health problems of consuming more than 14 units of alcohol a week are highlighted below;

  • Brain – Reduces concentration, judgement, mood and memory and increases the risk of having a stroke
  • Heart – Increases blood pressure and risk of heart disease
  • Stomach – Increases the risk of stomach and bowel cancer, as well as stomach ulcers
  • Liver – Increases the risk of developing liver cancer and liver cirrhosis (scarring)
  • Cancer – Increase risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, bowel and breast
Units of alcohol

Figure 2 Units of alcohol

On regular drinking
Below is the weekly guideline that applies for people who drink regularly or frequently i.e. most weeks.

The Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines for both men and women are that:

  • You are safest not to drink regularly more than 14 units per week, to keep health risks from drinking alcohol to a low level
  • If you do drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread this evenly over 3 days or more. If you have one or two heavy drinking sessions, you increase your risks of death from long term illnesses and accidents and injuries
  • The risk of developing a range of illnesses (including, for example, cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases with any amount you drink regularly
  • If you wish to cut down the amount you’re drinking, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days each week