I love me: The key to responsible drinking
According to the number of units I down on an average Friday night, I am officially a binge drinker. Drinking four standard glasses of white wine in one evening may seem perfectly reasonable, but convert those drinks into units and it adds up to a whopping 8.4 – more than double the daily recommended amount of two to three units for women.
Getting your units wrong can have severe health consequences. Exceeding your units every day significantly increases risk of developing high blood pressure and liver disease. And, as well as being more than twice as likely to have a stroke, it can also raise your risk of getting breast cancer by 50 per cent.
Men regularly drinking more than just two pints of strong lager a day are three times more likely to have a stroke and develop mouth cancer.
We all know we need to watch our units, but often we have no idea what that actually means. That’s why Drink Wise Greater Manchester are out in the city centre’s Exchange Square on a freezing Friday in February to get Manchester revellers to think about how many units they are really drinking – and make them aware of the hidden dangers to their health.
“Alcohol does cause problems that you can’t see,” explains Mike Jones, alcohol programme manager for Greater Manchester.
“A lot of people don’t realise that alcohol causes increased risk of cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease. These are health issues that people just aren’t aware of.”
A steady stream of over-18s called at the Drink Wise stall, and they were all given special ‘measures’ that allowed them to see exactly how many units there are in their favourite drink.
The results genuinely surprised the drinkers. Most people still equate one drink with one unit, and are shocked to see just how much more than their recommended daily and weekly amounts they are putting away.
Binge drinking – or cramming the maximum recommended weekly units into one night out – is very common, especially in younger people, says Mike.
“We want to promote the idea of looking at units on a daily rather than weekly basis,” he explains.
“People think it’s acceptable to save all their units until the end of the week, but that results in binge drinking.
“If you do that, you will get bad indigestion over the next couple of days because your body will be struggling to process the amount of alcohol you’ve drunk.
“The liver can regenerate quite quickly, but only by slowing down and stopping drinking. In the short-term, binge drinking can also cause bad skin and can leave you feeling depressed.”
The campaign – run in conjunction with the Department of Health – is attempting to encourage drinkers to think about their tipples in terms of units rather than glasses or pints.
The system can seem complex, but it is actually quite straightforward. One unit is 10ml of pure alcohol; generally, you get that in half a pint of mid-strength lager, beer or cider, a 125ml glass of wine or one measure of spirits.
Current advice is that men shouldn’t regularly drink more than three to four units a day; women, no more than two to three units a day, and it should be avoided if possible when pregnant.
Revellers are advised to be alcohol-free for 48 hours after a heavy drinking session.
If you are concerned about how much alcohol you are drinking, contact Drinkline on 0800 876 6778 or at drinking.nhs.uk, or make an appointment with your GP.
Most people who chatted with Drink Wise Greater Manchester staff did seem keen to learn about the importance of units.
After years of merrily ignoring the health advice, is booze Britain finally getting the message? “It is about opening up people to talking about alcohol without feeling they have a problem,” says Liz Burns, alcohol public health adviser with NHS Manchester.
“People are now thinking about smaller measures and looking at what is being sold to them. They have an awareness of the different percentages of wines in the same way they would think about different ingredients in food.”
Tips to stop yourself drinking too many units include setting yourself a daily limit. Work out when you do most of your drinking, and see if there are obvious times when you can cut back.
Don’t drink on an empty stomach, go out later or have your first drink of the day later than usual, and always try to drink a glass of water alongside your glass of wine.
Keep a range of grown-up, non-alcoholic alternatives at home, and if you’re drinking alcohol at home, try to stick to small measures and half pints.
Choosing to cut down, says Mike, can have a really positive effect on the state of your health and your finances – booze is best enjoyed in small quantities.
“We don’t preach to people,” Mike adds. “We don’t want people to stop drinking. It’s about moderation.
“We want people to improve their well-being, and give them the information to make the decisions that are best for them.”
Counting the units
- Double vodka: abv 40%, size 70ml, units 2.8, kcals 144
- Large glass of wine: abv 14 %, size 250ml, units, 3.5, kcals 196
- Champagne: abv 12 %, size 120ml, units 1.44, kcals 89
- Pint of cider: abv 4.5%, size 568ml, units 2.6, kcals 239
- Bottle of spirits: abv 40%, size 1 litre, units 40, kcals 2240
source: Manchester Evening News