Sometimes it can be difficult to see if you’re drinking too much or relying on alcohol to help get through the day.
The annual Alcohol Awareness Week campaign in November aims to highlight the issues surrounding dependence on alcohol.
Every measure of alcoholic beverage contains units, which are based on both the size of the drinks and the strength of the alcohol. In January the guidance around recommended limits of alcohol was updated – the Chief Medical Officer recommends no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, spreading these units evenly over three or more days.
Understanding how many units you’re drinking can help you stay on track. A lower-strength pint of lager or cider is 2 units, while a single measure of spirits is 1 unit. A standard glass of wine is just over 2 units, while a large glass is 3. A bottle of wine is about 10 units of alcohol, so it’s easy to see that simply sharing a bottle in the evening a few nights a week could push you over your limit.
Use a drinks checker to see how many units of alcohol you actually drink, and calculate the calories too – you may be surprised by the result.
Too much alcohol can be very bad for your health. Alcohol is a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions, including cancers, dementia, hypertension and diabetes. If you routinely drink too much you are more at risk of cancers and heart attack, and can increase your blood pressure and damage your liver.
Although many people think that a drink can help you relax, alcohol is actually a depressant and also reduces your ability to concentrate, react and move.
Many people think that a drink before bed will help them sleep. While alcohol can make you sleepy, it actually stops you from getting a proper deep sleep, and will leave you feeling worse the next day.
There are obvious side effects too. Alcohol clouds your judgement and can lead to you saying and doing things you might regret. It makes you clumsier and slower to react, leading to an increased risk of injury and accident. As it’s high in calories, alcohol consumption can also lead to unwanted weight gain.
If you’re drinking too much alcohol there are lots of ways you can cut back and improve your health.
- Break the habit – if you drink alcohol as part of a routine, then shake things up. If you drink before bed or while you’re watching TV, switch to water or tea. If you catch up with friends in the pub, meet in a café or restaurant instead. If you drink with your partner at home, make a pact to cut down together and take up a new hobby or go out together instead.
- Swap drinks – make simple changes to what you drink to cut your alcoholic intake. Drink a glass of water or juice between each alcoholic drink if you’re in the pub. Choose a bottle of lager instead of a pint, or a single instead of a double.
- Drink with dinner – food helps alcohol to be absorbed more slowly by your body. Try only drinking with your main meal of the day, and only pour yourself one glass.
- Don’t buy bulk – if it’s not in the house, you won’t drink it. Don’t buy beers in bulk at the supermarket, wine when you’re shopping, or spirits on offer.
- Budget and save – set yourself a budget for your monthly alcohol consumption, and stick to it. Put anything you don’t spend in a piggy bank and see what else you could treat yourself to after a month or year. You’ll be amazed at how much you can save if you reduce, or cut out, alcohol.
- Have alcohol free days – give your body time to recover from the effects of alcohol by having alcohol free days every week. Remember not to binge on the days you do drink, though, as you should never exceed your daily limit.
If you cut back on alcohol you may quickly find that you feel happier, have more energy, have more money, and lose weight.
If you’ve been surprised by how much alcohol you drink or find it hard to cut from your diet, talk to a health professional and get support.
What else can people do to cut back on alcohol?