Am I drinking too much? We reveal the recommended guidelines – and how drinking too much is impacting our health

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  • A recent study revealed that Brits get drunk more often than anyone else in the world.

    The study, which saw researchers survey more than 120,000 people globally across 36 countries, found that British people reported getting drunk an average of 51.1 times in a 12-month period – more than any other country.

    A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development revealed that middle-class professional women aged 45-64 are the UK’s biggest drinkers.

    Women gaining more equality in the workplace and attaining higher-paid positions is thought to be linked to the increased levels of drinking. “Women are adopting men’s drinking habits – and they are not healthy,’ says Mark Pearson of the OECD.

    But of course, it’s not only older, professional women who are drinking more. Binge drinking, or over-drinking, is somewhat of a marker of British culture – and it arguably extends throughout all life stages, from our teenage years through to later life, and all the bits in between.

    MORE: Low alcohol wines so you can enjoy a glass or two without a fuzzy head in the morning

    And with the culture of drinking comes some blurred lines over the amount that it’s actually okay to drink. After all, it’s easy to finish one or even two bottles of wine in an evening, especially if we’ve had a particularly stressful or busy day/week. And an evening at the pub can sometimes mean four, five, or six drinks in the space of just a few hours.

    But how does this fit into Government recommendations? Read on to find out if you’re drinking too much, the impact it can have on your health, and ways to cut down…

    Do you know the guidelines?

    The latest NHS guidelines (updated 8 January 2016) state that both men and women should not consume more than 14 units of alcohol per week, or 2 units a day. This equates to:

    • 6 pints of 4% alcohol lager
    • 6 glasses of 13% wine
    • 14 single shots (25ml) of 40% spirits

    It is better to spread your drinking out evenly across the week rather than ‘save’ and binge in one night.

    Am I drinking too much over the recommended alcohol units?

    Take the Alcohol Self-Assessment Test here, to see whether you’re drinking over the recommended alcohol units.

    How does alcohol affect your liver?

    The liver is the second most complex organ in the body, after our brains. It filters toxins, aids digestion, regulates blood sugar and cholesterol and fights infection and disease. When we drink a great deal, even if just for a few days, the levels of fats can build up in the liver.

    This rarely causes any symptoms but is the first sign you are drinking at a harmful level. Fortunately, this is reversible and not drinking for two weeks will usually allow the liver to recover. However, prolonged heavy drinking can damage liver cells and cause permanent scarring, known as cirrhosis. Alcohol isn’t the only thing that can affect the liver – if you’re overweight or if you have type 2 diabetes, you’re at increased risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

    So what’s the best way to give your liver a bit of a break? Have two alcohol-free days in a row every week.

    One function of our liver is to flush out toxins such as alcohol from the body, so it’s important to give it regular breaks.

    How can alcohol affect your weight?

    Juliette Kellow, a registered dietitian, explained that drinking alcohol is almost as bad for your waistline as a sugary doughnut.

    She explained, “Alcohol is empty calories – all the calories but none of the nutrients.

    “If you imagine there is 500 calories in a bottle of wine, and you’re having a glass a night, that’s 130/140 calories a day. Over a few months, that equals 5100 extra calories. It adds up to over a stone gained in weight.

    “If you did nothing else in your diet and cut one glass of wine every night, and replaced it with diet cola, you could expect a big weight loss reduction. All of those articles that purport the benefits of wine are nonsense – be under no illusion that alcohol is not good for us.”

    Equally, she warned that binge drinking is even worse.

    “Binge drinking is not good – even doing it ‘just’ once a month. One thing to remember is, the more we drink, the more we eat bad food. Alcohol dehydrates you, and dehydration will mess with your electrolytes, so you’ll be tucking in to more salty foods for that reason”

    Want to give up alcohol?

    A study, which will be published this year, found a substantial improvement in the health of 102 men and
    women in their 40s who gave up drinking for a month.

    Professor Moore, who co-authored the study which was partly funded by London’s Royal Free Hospital, said that the results showed improved liver function, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Typically the women drank 29 units a week and the men an average of 31 units, both above Government health guidelines.

    ‘That translates into a lower risk of developing diabetes and liver disease, both of which are on the increase,’ he commented.

    Professor Moore has these tips: Identify your triggers. Perhaps it’s once the children are in bed or maybe it’s when you sit down to watch TV -everyone has a drinking trigger. Know what it is to break the habit.

    Quash your fears. Often, we drink because it’s expected of us. Work out whether you really want a drink. Once you get over that fear of not drinking you can take back control.

    For more tips on how to cut down on your drinking, visit drinkaware.co.uk. However, if you do feel you might have a problem with drinking or alcohol abuse, visit your GP as soon as you can, and be as open and honest about your drinking habits as possible. It can be tough to seek help, but it is out there, and there are plenty of support groups for people going through alcohol addiction – you can find out more here.

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