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Sensible drinking

Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol doesn't often cause any problems, however, drinking too much can be harmful. The Department of Health advises that men should not drink more than three to four units of alcohol per day, and women should drink no more than two to three units of alcohol per day.

What is a unit of alcohol?

One unit of alcohol is equivalent to 10ml of pure alcohol. As a rough guide:

  • 1 pint of strong lager = 3 units
  • 1 pint of ordinary lager, bitter or cider, 175ml glass of wine = 2 units
  • 1 alcopop = 1.5 units
  • 1 measure of spirits  = 1 unit
  • many wines are around 11 or 12 per cent alcohol therefore a small glass = 1.5 units

Lagers and ciders sold in bottles are usually stronger than those sold on draught. You can find out exactly how many units of alcohol are in the bottle by reading the label.

How long alcohol stays in your bloodstream

On average, the body can breakdown alcohol at a rate of one unit per hour (depending on your weight, sex, age, metabolism, stress levels, amount of food eaten, medication taken and type of alcohol consumed). If you get drunk avoid alcohol for 48 hours afterwards to give your body time to recover.

When not to drink

Do not drink if a doctor or other health professional advises you to cut down, or to stop drinking, or, for example:

  • before or when operating machinery and equipment
  • using electrical equipment
  • taking part in active sport
  • you are trying to become pregnant
  • you are pregnant

The Department of Health website features a full list of situations when you are advised not to drink.

Health risks

The abuse of alcohol can lead to a wide range of health problems. In the short term it may cause you to experience drowsiness, tension, dehydration, unconsciousness or even death. In the long term, it is known to contribute to more serious health problems, including liver damage, cancer and heart disease.

Drink driving

The UK legal limit is 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood - as a rough guide this means men should consume no more than four units of alcohol, and women no more than three units, before driving. Still, there is no fail-safe guide as to how much you can drink and stay under the limit. The only safe way to avoid a fatal accident, driving ban and/or large fine is not to drink if you plan to drive.

Police can ‘breathalyse’ you if they suspect you’ve been drinking too much just before driving. This test estimates the concentration of alcohol in the blood. If you fail the test, you will be charged and the breath test will be stored as evidence. Failure to give a breath test is an offence.

Drinking in public

Anti-social behaviour arising from binge drinking, ie drinking large quantities in a short space of time, has meant some towns and cities have now designated places where drinking alcohol is not allowed. If you are caught drinking in a these areas you may be liable for a £50 fixed penalty. Should you be found guilty of being drunk and disorderly in a public place you may not only be liable for a fixed penalty of £80 but you could receive an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO).

Dealing with a drink problem

You don't have to be an alcoholic to be drinking over a safe limit. With this in mind the NHS has developed a free and confidential online Down Your Drink programme. It tells drinkers what they need to know to become a 'thinking drinker'.

Getting support and treatment

Along with your local doctor, there are a range of local support organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous that may be able to refer you to structured treatment, such as rehabilitation or detox.

If you need to talk to someone, the free and confidential helpline, Drinkline (0800 917 8282) can provide you with advice and information.

Alcohol Concern also produces a series of factsheets with information and guidance that you may find useful.

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