The dangers of drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis have been well documented. However, many people wrongly presume that their own alcohol consumption is not a problem or they grossly underestimate just how much they are drinking.
The NHS and WHO both agree than consuming more than 14 units of alcohol every week means that you risk damaging your health and this risk grows the more you drink. Fourteen units is actually the equivalent of just six regular-strength pints of beer or lager or ten small glasses of low-strength wine. This, for some, might not seem like a lot at all. Furthermore, these units should not be consumed all in one go, but spread throughout the week. A binge of ten units can be much more harmful than 14 units spread over seven days.
So what exactly are the risks of alcohol abuse?
Low Risk Drinking
If you regularly drink less than the 14 recommended units a week then you are classed as a low-risk drinker. It’s ‘low risk’ rather than ‘safe’ because actually, there is no safe drinking level. Alcohol is a type one carcinogen and any drinking will increase your risk of cancers and other diseases.
Higher Risk Drinking
If you regularly exceed the recommended 14 units of alcohol a week you increase your risk of contracting diseases dramatically. Such diseases include cancers of the throat, mouth, stomach and breast as well as liver disease, heart disease, strokes, brain damage and nervous system damage. The more you drink, the greater your risk.
Binge Drinking or ‘Single Session’ Drinking
Binge drinking brings its own risks as drinking too much too quickly increases the risks of injuries and accidents, which can even cause death. Furthermore, those who’ve been on a binge are much more likely to misjudge risky situations and lose control, such as putting themselves in danger or by having unprotected sex.
Aside from these less-physical risks associated with binge drinking, there are the health-related ones too. Drinking on a binge greatly increases the risks to your health. Binge drinkers are often hospitalised due to their single session drinking due to acute alcohol poisoning.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse
Drinking heavily over a long period of time takes its toll on the body. The organs in the body become damaged, like the brain, heart, pancreas and liver. Drinking large amounts regularly also increases your blood pressure as well as your cholesterol and these are both pre-causal factors for heart attacks and strokes. Furthermore, long-term alcohol misuse weakens the immune system, meaning that you are more at risk of infections and more prone to fractures to due increased bone weakness.
Sexual problems are also on the increase correlated with the amount of alcohol drunk and this includes infertility. Mental health doesn’t escape from the effects of long-term alcohol abuse either. Depression and even dementia are much more likely if you drink heavily over a long period of time. In fact, drinking alcohol is considered to be the biggest risk to life after smoking and obesity. It’s a causal factor in at least 60 medical conditions.
How Widespread is The Problem?
I am sure that most of us know or have known a “problem drinker”, or maybe you are recognising that you, yourself, are the problem drinker. But, just how does widespread alcohol abuse affect us? The statistics suggest that 10.8 million adults in England alone are drinking at a level that poses risks to their health. That’s a huge number! Another estimate is that 1.6 million of us have some dependence on alcohol.
Most of us know what the dangers of alcohol abuse are but unfortunately not all of us are listening. The NHS and other organisations such as Drink Aware are working hard to reduce the numbers that are succumbing to alcohol abuse each year but there is still a lot to do before alcohol abuse becomes a minor problem to the UK’s health rather than a leading cause of illness and death.