Is it okay to drink alcohol every day? Doctors weigh in on this common habit

The daily tipple is a habit many of us fall into - but is it okay to drink alcohol every day? Here's what the experts say, plus what happens to the body

View of woman holding glass of white wine, cheers with another, sitting on the sofa to represent is it okay to drink alcohol every day
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's a daily habit that many of us slip into without even realising: a glass of wine to get over a difficult start to the week, dinner with a friend on a Wednesday, and of course, there's the weekend. But is it okay to drink alcohol every day? Here's what the doctors think. 

We live in a world, like it or not, where alcohol is part of daily existence. For many people, drinking plays a huge role in socialising with friends (and how we make new ones as an adult), relaxing in the evening, and enjoying time with a significant other. Research by the NHS suggests that 49% of adults in the UK drink alcohol at least once a week with 21% drinking more than 14 units a week, the organisation's recommended amount. 

But is it okay to drink alcohol every day? You may be looking to know if you're drinking too much post-summer haze of outdoor picnics and afternoons in the pub, or even how to cut down on alcohol and try more mindful drinking. Here, woman&home speaks to three doctors to reveal the real side-effects of everyday drinking and if your drinking habits could harm your health. 

Is it okay to drink alcohol every day? 

The bottom line is, per advice from the NHS, adults should drink fewer than 14 units a week, which roughly relates to six pints of lager or one and a half bottles of wine. This drinking should also be spread over three or more days of the week, with several drink-free days in between if you're worried about your intake. Drinking every day, even if it's just a glass, can harm the body as the liver is constantly under pressure to deal with the effects of the alcohol. 

"Heavy, everyday drinking is extremely damaging as it can increase inflammation in the body, affect the circulation of blood flow and cause oxidative stress which damages cells," explains Dr Ahmed El Muntasar, a leading NHS GP and award-winning aesthetician. "There is also a lot of psychological impact of drinking every day on people's mental health, so it does end up creating problems."

But as you'll also know, binge drinking - defined as six or more units in a single session for women - is best avoided too to avoid overloading the liver, and the inevitable hangover that comes with it. If you want to know more about alcohol units and how to calculate them, visit Alcohol Change UK's calculator.

However, Dr Ahmed also notes, it's all about moderation. Unless you think you might have an issue with alcohol, there's no need to go from 100 to zero. Many people would find this difficult since drinking is so ingrained in our everyday lifestyle and cutting something from your lifestyle entirely can lead to more craving than resistance. Plus, "moderate drinking actually offers some positive effects for the body", though these are confined to one or two glasses of wine per week rather than everyday drinking. There are many more benefits of not drinking alcohol at all. 

Dr Ahmed El Muntasar GP and aesthetics doctor
Dr Ahmed El Muntasar

Dr Ahmed El Muntasar is a practising GP in the NHS, working on the frontlines during the Covid-19 pandemic and seeing patients day-to-day. He is also an award-winning aesthetician. 

What happens if you drink alcohol every day?

1. It could start to impact your liver

We know that alcohol impacts the liver more than some other organs in the body as this is where alcohol is metabolised, explains Dr Chun Tang, GP and medical director at Pall Mall Medical. "Chronic alcohol consumption can lead to liver damage, including fatty liver [disease], alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis."

Healing and regeneration of the liver is one of the first things that happen when you give up alcohol, Dr Tang says. "This improves its function and reduces the risk of liver-related diseases." 

Dr Chun Tang / Pall Mall Medical
Dr Chun Tang

Dr Tang is a popular GP at Pall Mall, with his private practice offering patients a traditional doctor/patient relationship, with rapid access and quality time to get to the bottom of any health concerns. He has a superior understanding of acute and chronic disease management, with 15 year’s experience in a primary care setting. 

2. Drinking alcohol every day may change the way you behave

Alcohol famously changes how we think and behave - just look at how you feel after a glass of wine after a stressful day. Relaxed, calm, and perhaps with a better outlook on the situation. But as anyone who's woken up after one too many with a dose of 'beer fear' will know, it can also change the way we behave for the worse. 

"Low doses decrease anxiety, higher doses loosen inhibitions and increase the likelihood of risk-taking and inappropriate behaviour," says Professor Zoltan Sarnyai, a Harvard-trained neuroscientist and the chief scientist at ALLY. It's a situation that only worsens when you drink every day. 

"Frequent use of alcohol leads to tolerance, which means that the amount of alcohol needs to increase over time to achieve the same level of [relaxing] effect. This can rapidly lead to the escalation of daily alcohol consumption and people who are regular drinkers exhibit withdrawal if alcohol is not available," he says. 

This can look like anxiety and/or depression, manifest in tremors, and on more severe occasions, cause hallucinations and seizures. 

Dr Zoltan Sarnyai, neuroscientist and chief scientist at ALLY
Dr Zoltan Sarnyai

Dr Zoltan Sarnyai is an award-winning Cambridge Fellow and Harvard-trained neuroscientist. He leads an active research programme into the neurobiological mechanisms of stress and has authored over 150 journal articles and book chapters. Over the years he has served in advisory roles for pharma, biotech and venture capital firms and has raised millions in grant funding from USA, EU and Australian funding bodies. He was recently ranked among the top 1% most influential scientists in the world by Stanford University. Zoltan brings invaluable expertise and knowledge as he leads research and formula development at Ally.

3. It weakens the immune system

Drinking alcohol every day weakens the immune system as it puts pressure on vital organs like the liver and forces them to focus on metabolising alcohol rather than their regular functions, making it easier for us to catch colds. In the lungs, one of the body's first immune defences, alcohol damages cells and the hairs that clear the potential viruses away. 

"It also reduces nutrient absorption, contributes to inflammation, impacts the gut, and prevents the optimal functioning of immune cells," says Dr Tang. "A sober lifestyle not only reduces the risk of infections but also contributes to overall well-being, empowering the immune system to operate at its best and protect against illnesses."

4. It can impact the health of our skin

"Short-term, drinking dehydrates the body and also the skin," explains Dr El Muntasar. "This can cause wrinkles, flakiness, and inflammation of the skin." 

In the long term though, drinking every day causes some serious issues related to our skin. "Alcohol can make your body release more histamine and histamine can cause the blood vessels to dilate. This is why people get that alcohol flush where their skin becomes quite red and inflamed and it can worsen conditions like rosacea." If you combine alcohol and menopause, the risk of this becomes higher still. 

As alcohol causes oxidative stress which damages the DNA of our cells, it can also increase the risk of skin cancer, he adds, pointing to research by Paris-Saclay University.

Glass of gin and tonic split over with ice coming out

(Image credit: Getty Images)

5. Drinking every day can destroy healthy gut microbiome

"Alcohol that enters the body through the mouth gets to the gut first and it has been recently discovered that alcohol consumption has a major effect on the gut microbiome, the ecosystem made up of trillions of bacteria living in our intestines," says Dr Sarnyai. 

Getting into the habit of drinking every day can change the composition of our gut bacteria and help to grow more of the "harmful" bacteria and less of the "good" bacteria, he says. "It's a phenomenon called dysbiosis and it can be the mechanism behind making the wall of the gut leaky and allowing harmful chemicals to get into our circulation, causing a low-level systemic inflammation which is detrimental to the functioning of all organs, including the brain." 

6. Drinking every day prevents us from having a regular sleep schedule

If you drink alcohol every day, you'll likely find it very difficult to fall asleep at the same time every night and get the best quality sleep. While it might not sound like a big deal, having a regular sleep schedule is essential for maintaining our wellbeing - from simply staying awake and being able to concentrate to keeping our gut healthy. 

"While alcohol may help some individuals fall asleep initially, it disrupts the sleep cycle by affecting various stages of sleep, leading to fragmented and less restorative rest," says Dr Tang. "When someone stops consuming alcohol, the body can maintain a more natural sleep pattern, allowing for longer periods of deep and restful sleep. This improvement in sleep results in increased energy levels, better cognitive function, and improved mood during the day."

How much alcohol is safe to drink daily?

Unfortunately, more and more research suggests there is no one "safe" level of alcohol consumption. While evidence for this final conclusion has been building for years, the World Health Organization (WHO) made a statement in January 2023 to confirm that "when it comes to alcohol consumption, there is no safe amount that does not affect health." 

The NHS and other public health bodies recommend 14 units per week as low-risk drinking, not "safe" drinking. The Mayo Clinic in the US, a medical research and practice organization, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggest up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men for those looking for more specific guidance. 

If you're looking to reduce how much you drink, consider swapping in some of the popular alternatives to alcohol and speak to your doctor if you have concerns about how much you're drinking. 

What are the signs you are drinking too much alcohol? 

  • Friends and family express concern about your drinking habits 
  • Being secretive about your drinking, how much or how often you drink 
  • Spending time at home drinking heavily, by yourself
  • Despite trying, you are unable to cut down on how much you drink 
  • Cravings for alcohol that affect your ability to concentrate
  • Your professional life, family relationships, and/or friends are negatively impacted
  • Drinking as a coping mechanism, i.e. drinking in the morning to get over a hangover 

If you are concerned about how much you are drinking, seek guidance from a doctor. Visit Alcohol Change UK for more information and help. 

Grace Walsh
Health Channel Editor

Grace Walsh is woman&home's Health Channel Editor, working across the areas of fitness, nutrition, sleep, mental health, relationships, and sex. She is also a qualified fitness instructor. In 2024, she will be taking on her second marathon in Rome, cycling from Manchester to London (350km) for charity, and qualifying as a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach. 

A digital journalist with over six years experience as a writer and editor for UK publications, Grace has covered (almost) everything in the world of health and wellbeing with bylines in Cosmopolitan, Red, The i Paper, GoodtoKnow, and more.