|Research has shown that
drinking alcohol in moderate amounts has some health benefits
for some people. For example, for men aged 40 and over, and for
women after the menopause, there is evidence that drinking 1 to
2 units of alcohol per day - but no more - can protect against
the risk of coronary heart disease.
|Recommended daily limits
that men should drink no more than 3 to 4 units per day and women
no more than 2 to 3 units per day. These are guides, not targets,
so drinking 'up to the limit' every day is not recommended. Nor
should the units not be 'saved up' over the week and used to binge
on the weekend.
|Strength and units
|The strength of an alcoholic
drink is indicated by the percentage of 'alcohol by volume' (ABV).
Whisky, for example, is generally 40% ABV, so, in a given volume
of whisky, 40% is pure alcohol. Ordinary strength lager is around
3.5% ABV, wine is typically 12%.
A 'unit' is 8 grams of pure alcohol, regardless of the amount
of liquid it's contained in. The number of units in one litre
of any drink is equal to the ABV. So, a 500ml (half-litre) can
of 9% ABV lager contains 4.5 units.
One unit is equal to:
- About half a pint (284ml) of ordinary strength
lager, beer or cider
- A 25ml pub measure of spirit or a small glass
of fortified wine such as sherry or port (40% ABV)
- A small glass (125 ml) of 9% ABV wine
The following table illustrates the unit content and the link
to daily limits in more detail:
|Type of Drink
||Units per drink
||Daily Limit for Men
||Daily Limit for Women
|Super-strength lager 9%
||1 can (440ml) = 4 units
||Half a can
|Standard beer/lager 3.5%
||1 pint = 2 units
|Low alcohol lager 1%
||1 can (275ml) = 0.3 units
||1 drink (25ml) = 1 unit
||1 glass (125ml) = 1.5 units
|Problem drinking and alcohol
|When consumed frequently
or in large quantities, alcohol is addictive. The World Health
Organisation recognises alcohol dependence (alcoholism ) as a
A person is considered to be dependent on alcohol when three or
more of the following symptoms have been present during the previous
- a strong urge to drink
- difficulty controlling drinking
- physical withdrawal symptoms (eg: sweating, shaking,
agitation and nausea) when alcohol intake is stopped or reduced
- growing tolerance to alcohol (needing larger quantities
to create the same effect)
- gradual neglect of other activities
- persistent drinking even though it is obviously
Problem drinking (also called 'harmful drinking') applies when
a person is not dependent on alcohol, but drinks enough to cause
actual physical or psychological harm - ie: more than the recommended
daily limits mentioned above.
|What are the physical effects
of drinking too much?
|The short-term effects
Alcohol suppresses the part of the brain that controls judgement,
resulting in a loss of inhibitions. It also affects physical co-ordination,
causing blurred vision, slurred speech and loss of balance. Drinking
a very large amount at one time ('binge drinking') can lead to
unconsciousness, coma, or even death. Vomiting while unconscious
can lead to death by asphyxiation.
The long-term effects
Alcohol is a poison. Even if a person rarely gets 'drunk' to the
point of intoxication, drinking too much alcohol, too often, will
damage the organs of the body, increase the risk of getting some
diseases, and make others worse. Excessive drinking over time
is associated with:
- loss of brain cells
- liver damage
- gastritis and stomach bleeding
- high blood pressure (which can lead to stroke)
- certain cancers
- nerve damage
- heart failure
Excessive drinking has also been linked to vitamin deficiency,
obesity, sexual problems, infertility, muscle disease, skin problems,
and inflammation of the pancreas.
|Alcohol and women
|Women have less fluid in
their bodies than men, so a woman who drinks the same amount as
a man of the same size will get intoxicated faster, because the
alcohol in her body will be more concentrated. Women can develop
liver disease at lower levels of drinking than men.
Women who drink heavily during pregnancy are at risk of having
babies with a condition called Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS),
which includes growth deficiencies, nervous system problems, lowered
IQ and facial abnormalities. There is some evidence that pregnant
women who drink more than 10 units a week are more likely to have
underweight babies. It is not known if there is an absolutely
safe limit for drinking during pregnancy, but one unit per day
is generally agreed to incur a very low risk.
|What are the psychological
effects of drinking too much?
|Although alcohol initially
makes people feel relaxed, it can ultimately increase anxiety.
It is also related to problems with sleeping, mood swings, self-harming
behaviour, violence and depression (many suicide attempts are
thought to involve alcohol).
|Keeping a 'drinking diary'
that notes how much alcohol is consumed within a week - and where
- will reveal whether drinking is within safe guidelines and highlight
the situations that need to be avoided in order to cut down. Tips
that may help with cutting down are to:
- go out later; have the first drink later
- replace some drinks with non-alcoholic or low
- replace the 'usual' drink with one containing
- miss out the 'quick drink' at lunchtime or after
- have a minimum of two alcohol-free days per week
- do something other than going to the pub
- choose longer drinks, such as beer, and drink
- buy beers and wines with lower alcohol content
- set a limit of, for example, 5 units for any one
- use a standard drinks measure or smaller glasses
- keep a supply of non-alcoholic drinks at home
- find alternative ways to relax
- avoid drinking on an empty stomach
|What help is available
for those who need to stop drinking?
|Counselling and support
Confidential advice and support is available through GPs, and
may involve a community alcohol team or specialist consultant
To reduce withdrawal symptoms, medication such as Valium may be
prescribed for a few days at a time.
There are two drug treatments that may be used to prevent relapse:
- Disulfiram, which causes very unpleasant effects
if even a small amount of alcohol is consumed (and severe,
occasionally life-threatening effects if a large amount of
alcohol is consumed)
- Acamprosate, which influences transmitters in
the brain and reduces the craving for alcohol. It may have
side-effects such as headache diarrhoea and rash
People with chronic alcohol dependence are often malnourished.
If this is the case, vitamin supplements may also be prescribed.
|Alcoholics Anonymous Hong
Address: G/F, 12, Borrett Road, Mid-levels, HK
Tel: (852) 2522 5665
The national umbrella agency for 500 local agencies tackling alcohol
problems and offering help to drinkers, their friends and families.
Provides an information service including an enquiry service by
phone, e-mail and post, a library, a bookshop, a series of 30
factsheets, and quarterly bulletins.
Address: Alcohol Concern, Waterbridge House, 32-36 Loman Street,
London SE1 0EE.
Tel: 020 7928 4644
E-mail: email@example.com (please include
your postal address with all enquiries )
The Portman Group 'Unit Calculator'
|Healthwise (Health Information Resource
Tel : (852) 2849 2400
Fax : (852) 2849 2900
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Homepage : http://www.healthwise.org.hk/
This leaflet is for information only. For a detailed
opinion or personal advice, please consult with your own