HealthFirst

Alcohol

3rd July 2024

Posted by Dr Michelle Wright

July 1 to 7 2024 is Alcohol Awareness Week in the UK. Listen to Dr Michelle on Health Matters as she takes the opportunity to think about alcohol and how it can affect your health.

What is the latest evidence around alcohol and its health effects?

Don’t get me wrong, I like my glass or two of wine just as much as the next person. And alcohol has been accepted for centuries in many cultures around the world. But there are health risks associated with alcohol consumption. According to the World Health Organization, worldwide, there were 2.6 million deaths attributable to alcohol consumption in 2019 – 2 million of those among men and 0.6 million among women.  

Also WHO 2019 figures – it’s thought that approximately 400 million people aged 15 and older live with alcohol use disorders, and 209 million live with alcohol dependence. 

What are the health risks associated with alcohol consumption?

Well, the key ones are: 

  1. The non-communicable diseases including liver and heart disease. And because alcohol is a known carcinogen, it’s associated with various cancers including breast and colorectal cancer.  
  1. Alcohol consumption can impact mental health being particularly associated with depression, anxiety, and of course, addiction. 
  1. And then there are alcohol-related injuries that can occur including road traffic accidents, falls, sexual assault, and other violence.  
  1. Alcohol consumption also carries risks to pregnancy including developmental disabilities, birth defects, miscarriage, and premature delivery. 
  1. And of course, it can lead to social problems impacting work and finances and leading to family and relationship issues with alcohol consumption not just affecting the drinker, but also others around them.  
What’s the bottom line, how much alcohol is safe to drink?

Well actually, no level of alcohol consumption is risk-free. Even drinking low amounts carries the risk of potential harm. Of course, the risk for individuals varies depending on the amount and frequency of drinking, their health, age, and sex.  

But most alcohol-related harm comes from heavy episodic, or continuous, drinking.  

Different countries have established their own ‘low risk’ drinking guidelines helping to guide about how we can minimise the health and social risks associated with drinking and make healthier lifestyle choices.  

Here in Switzerland, it’s recommended that men have no more than 2 standard drinks per day. Women no more than 1 standard drink per day with at least two alcohol-free days per week.  

What’s defined as a standard drink depends on the country. Generally it is a drink that contains somewhere between 10-12 grams of alcohol. That translates to between 280-330 ml of beer, 100-120 ml of red wine and around 30mls of spirits.  

In the UK it’s recommended that both men and women drink no more than 14 units per week, spread over 3 or more days. 14 units means roughly six pints of lager or one and a half bottles of wine. A pint is around 568 millilitres.  

Canada tackles things slightly differently with their guidance recognising the continuum of risk as weekly alcohol consumption increases – the ideal being zero drinks per week for maximum health benefits.  

So, with these guidelines in mind, perhaps a moment for some self reflection on your own alcohol intake.  

Tune in next time for some practical steps if you’re looking to reduce your intake and for some important support resources across the country.  

 

 

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