Drinking this festive season - how much is too much?
Christmas party season is right around the corner, and chances are you have a few social events lined up, such as your work's Christmas party, a meal out with friends and maybe even a few nights out. Christmas and New Year are a great time to let your hair down and have some fun, and many of us drink more at this time of year than at any other time. In fact, did you know that alcohol consumption in the UK increases more at this time of year than anywhere else in the world (1)?
Here at Expertrain, we're committed to the idea of balance in order to live healthier, happier lives. So whilst we believe you should nourish your body with a healthy diet and take care of yourself with regular exercise, we also believe that a little of what you fancy is good for both your physical and mental well-being. This means it's ok to have a bit of chocolate cake or a bag of crisps now and again; everything in moderation!
The problem with Christmas is that it can often be a time of excess, both when it comes to eating and drinking, and it can be hard to say no to another cocktail, pint or glass of wine at your office party. So how do you know when you've had enough; how much is too much when it comes to booze this Christmas?
A glass of wine a day
“A glass of wine a day is good for you.” Is there any truth in this, or is it just a health myth? The World Health Organisation warns us that alcohol isn't safe to drink at all due to the fact it can increase your risk of cancer. However, studies do point towards numerous health benefits linked to consuming a moderate amount of alcohol. Research in the past has shown a link between moderate alcohol consumption and a reduced risk of heart disease (2). But it's worth noting this doesn't apply to individuals who already have high blood pressure, existing heart disease or type 2 diabetes. We know that red wine is a good source of antioxidants which can help to protect the body from cancer-causing free radicals.
An increased risk of cancer
Most of us are aware that consuming alcohol could increase your risk of cancer, particularly mouth, throat, breast, bowel and liver cancer, and you don't need to be a heavy drinker to experience this increased risk. Staying within the government's guidelines of two drinks a day for men and one for women can help to reduce this risk. Did you know that regularly drinking a large glass of wine or pint of beer a day (both containing around 3 units) can significantly increase your risk of cancer (3)?
Heavy drinking can also lead to long-term problems such as cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer, as well as stroke, pancreatitis and high blood pressure.
Accident and Emergency
Many doctors have blamed the general lack of alcohol awareness and the low cost of alcohol for rising binge drinking rates across the UK, and it's fair to say that conflicting information in the news can be so stressful it may leave you feeling in need of a drink!
Accident and Emergency departments treat more people for accidents and illnesses caused by alcohol at Christmas than at any other time of year. In 2011, 126,000 people in England aged 16 to 34 needed hospital treatment because of alcohol (4). It's a problem that is costing the NHS £3 billion a year, with alcohol-related admissions ranging from long-term problems with the liver and heart to head injuries and broken bones caused by drunken accidents.
With alcohol more affordable today than ever before, figures for alcohol-related accidents and injuries are also on the rise – between 2011 and 2012, there was a 26% rise in the number of women admitted to hospital due to alcohol.
A growing problem
At Christmas time, alcohol consumption in the UK rises by 40% (5), with Britons drinking 41% more than average in December. 14% of people admit to drinking more than they planned to over the Christmas period, with over half of all people drinking more than the recommended guidelines. This also leads to a rise in the number of murders and domestic assaults on Christmas day, and an increased number of drink-drive arrests. The Christmas and New Year period is second only to the summer months for drink driving figures.
We hope we haven't scared you too much with these statistics, and nobody is saying that you shouldn't drink alcohol at all. Christmas is a time to celebrate – chances are you'll have some time off work and enjoying a few drinks is usually part of most celebrations and parties. But how much really is too much?
- Women shouldn't regularly (every day or most days) drink more than 2 to 3 units a day. That's just one 175ml glass of wine (ABV 13%)
- Men shouldn't regularly drink more than 3 to 4 units a day. That's just one pint of strong beer, lager or cider (ABV 5.2%)
It's important to keep an eye on the 'ABV' or percentage of alcohol in your drink, as this can vary widely depending on what you're drinking. Look for lower ABV versions of your favourite drinks at the supermarket or in the pub – these generally also tend to be cheaper and have fewer calories, which could be beneficial if you're counting calories.
What's in my drink?
We've gathered together a few figures to help you suss out how many units are in that drink of yours:
- A 750ml bottle of white, red or rose wine is 10 units of alcohol
- One large glass (250ml) of wine is 3.3 units
- 25ml of spirit and mixer (ABV 40%) is 1 unit
- A standard can of lager (ABV 4%) is 1.8 units whilst a pint is 2.3 units
- Switch to extra strong lager or beer (ABV 8%) and this rises to 3.5 units per can or 4.5 units per pint
We recommend using the drinks checker on the NHS website to work out how many units are in your drinks, and don't feel pressured to accept another drink if you don't want to. There are low-alcohol and non-alcoholic alternatives available in most bars and restaurants.
One night out for your office party, enjoying a few drinks, isn't likely to impact your health significantly, other than leaving you feeling bleary-eyed and in need of a hangover cure the next day. It's only when this becomes a regular thing, or when you start to enjoy a couple of drinks every day, that there could be a problem. So kick back and enjoy the festive season with a few drinks and remember that moderation is the key to being healthy and happy!
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