It’s official: alcohol is good for you. No, really; according to unconfirmed reports (that you should take not with a pinch of salt, but a veritable handful), alcohol consumed in moderation is thought to help reduce the risk of heart disease. It can also keep you safe from blood clots – through raising ‘good’ cholesterol concentrations in the blood.
And, get this: red wine is thought to help maintain the flexibility of the blood vessel walls.1 What’s more, alcohol can lower social and sexual inhibition, help you to lose weight, and the nutrients in some beers can even help you to live longer. Blimey!
So, the lesson is: the more you drink, the healthier and happier you’ll be, right?
The TRUTH about alcohol
Drinking too much can kill you, and other people: family, friends and complete strangers can lose their lives as a result of your drinking. It happens every day. While you’ve read this far, someone in the UK has died of an alcohol-related illness or accident.
Some more (sobering) stats
According to the Office of National Statistics: 2
In 2010 there were 8,790 alcohol-related deaths in the UK,126 more than in 2009 (8,664)
There are more alcohol-related deaths in males than in females, with 67 per cent of all alcohol-related deaths in the UK in 2010 being male
Over the last ten years alcohol-related death rates were highest for those aged 55-74 and lowest for those aged under 35
UK males aged 55-74 years showed a sharp and statistically significant increase in alcohol-related death rate from 41.8 per 100,000 in 2009 to 45.2 per 100,000 in 2010
Alcohol-related death rates varied between the regions of England and tended to be highest in the North and lowest in the East of England (over the last ten years)
Within England and Wales, alcohol-related death rates are higher in Wales
Alcoholic liver disease accounted for nearly two thirds of all alcohol-related deaths in 2010
It’s a ‘tolerance thing’
We humans are a funny lot, aren’t we? Funny peculiar, that is. While one of us feels giddy after a swift half (or even a wine gum* or two), another can drink like a fish (and we’re not talking a three-spined stickleback tiddler here, we mean a humpback whale!) and appear completely sober – they can walk, talk, work and play as if they’ve been drinking pear juice all night, not drinking everyone else under the table with round after round of pints or shots.
It’s all about tolerance, you see. Over time, hardened drinkers almost need to drink a bar dry before becoming tipsy (recognise yourself here, perhaps?).
* Something to chew on: Did you know that it is illegal in the UK to sell certain brands of wine gums to under 18s? In October 2009, 15-year-old Jaz Bhogal discovered this. After leaving a Cambridgeshire discount store having bought a 99p packet of Haribo gums, he was horrified to find a member of staff chasing him down the street asking for proof of age.3
Returning to the question of how much alcohol is too much
You can look at this in two ways:
1. How much is physically harmful, and
2. Even if you drink responsibility (and to recommended levels*), if your drinking somehow negatively affects your work, your family life and friendships, etc. doesn’t that mean you are still drinking too much (and might even need to cut out the booze altogether)?
Yes, it does.
* Recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption are 3-4 units per day in men, equating to around a pint and a half of 4% strength beer, and 2-3 units in women – a single 175 ml glass of 13% strength wine for women (Benenden Healthcare). 4
Don’t let others pressurise you into drinking if you simply don’t like it (but do it to get people off your back). Telling others that you “have to drive home”, or that at the moment you are “on medication that you can’t mix with alcohol” usually does the trick. And if your drinking – however minimal – is harming your life (and others’ lives) in any way, don’t say to yourself: “Well, compared to my mates, I hardly drink at all; so what’s the problem?” Instead: