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Alcohol’s Risks: Understanding the Impact on Your Health

Alcohol’s Risks: Understanding the Impact on Your HealthPhoto from Unsplash

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What are the potential harms of alcohol?

We are becoming increasingly aware of the potential harms of alcohol. Although legal and widely consumed across most of the world, the World Health Organisation now deems that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.

Alcohol affects most organs in our bodies. Its consumption has been linked to a variety of health conditions including liver disease, dementia, high blood pressure and strokes, fertility issues, sexual dysfunction, low immunity, as well as multiple cancers particularly breast, bowel, and mouth cancer. The risk is also known to increase proportionally with the amount consumed and even low and moderate intake of alcohol has been linked to cancers. Alcohol is also high in calories and can contribute to weight gain.

There is some evidence that at low or moderate dose, alcohol can have beneficial effects on heart health and the risk of type 2 diabetes, however this must be weighed against the potential risks at the same dose.

How do I know if I’m drinking too much?

It’s a good idea to keep track of your drinking and make sure you’re not drinking too much each week. The current UK guidance is to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. If you do drink up to that amount, it should be spread out over several days and ensuring you have at least 3 drink-free days each week.

1 unit of alcohol equals 10ml of pure alcohol. In drinking terms, the alcohol content of common drinks is:

  • A single 25ml shot of spirit: 1 unit
  • A pint of beer: 2.3 unit
  • A 175ml glass of wine: 2.3 units
  • A can of hard seltzer: 1 unit

So, 14 units weekly equates to approximately 6 glasses of wine per week.

What is alcohol misuse? And what are the signs of it?

Alcohol is a highly addictive substance and one that we can easily become dependent on. Alcohol misuse happens when someone loses the ability to control how much they are drinking. It can be hard to spot, and many people won’t realise they or someone around them has an alcohol drinking problem.

Some common signs to look out for in yourself or those around you:

  • Heavy and excessive drinking
  • Drinking alone or secretly
  • Needing a drink first thing in the morning
  • Finding it difficult to socialise without alcohol
  • Using alcohol as a reward
  • Using alcohol to deal with stress or emotional difficulties
  • An increased tolerance to alcohol
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, such as nausea, headaches, irritability, or shaking.

The AUDIT test is a screening tool used in the UK to assess someone’s risk of alcohol addiction. It can be accessed here.

What can I do about alcohol misuse?

Help is available if you’re concerned about your alcohol consumption or that of a loved one.

There are multiple treatment options available that can be tailored to the individual person. These include counselling with an addiction therapist or support groups, medication to support quitting, or doing a detoxification programme to gradually stop.

In anyone drinking excessively, it’s important not to suddenly stop or go ‘cold-turkey’ as uncontrolled withdrawal from alcohol can be harmful.

If you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s alcohol consumption, rest assured that your doctor is here to provide confidential support tailored to your needs. To book an appointment, you can use our online booking site here or call us on 0207 245 9333.  

Further information and support can be found below:

Article produced by Sloane Street Surgery, a private GP practice in London that provides world-class private healthcare for patients in Chelsea, Knightsbridge, Belgravia, West London, Hampshire, and beyond.

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