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Understanding alcohol

teenage alcohol drinkers

The odd drink may not kill you, but when does a harmless pint become a hazard?

Humans have been fond of the odd alcoholic tipple for thousands of years. But alcohol can be dangerous, both because of the effect it has on your body and the ways it changes your behaviour. Understanding it can help you to have a good time without doing something you regret.

How can alcohol affect me?

Drinking has a wide range of effects, some of which happen straight away and some of which happen over years.

  • Alcohol affects your judgement, which can lead to embarrassment and injury.
  • Alcohol dehydrates you, which makes you feel lousy and is bad for your skin.
  • Regular drinking can affect your mood, increasing anxiety and stress and triggering depression.
  • Alcoholic drinks contain plenty of calories, so excessive drinking can lead to weight gain. A pint of lager can contain as many calories as a McDonald's burger, but with even less nutrition.
  • Heavy drinking increases your risk of many diseases, especially cancer and liver disease.
  • Alcohol affects your sleep quality, leaving you tired the next day.
  • Extreme binge drinking can cause alcohol poisoning, which can be deadly.
  • Alcohol is addictive both physically and psychologically, which means that the more you drink, the harder and more unpleasant it is to cut down or quit.

How do I drink safely and responsibly?

  • Know your limits and stay within them. There’s nothing worse than waking up with a sore head or not knowing what you did the night before. Controlling how much you drink will help you avoid this. Remember that it takes a while to absorb alcohol, so you'll keep getting drunker even after you stop drinking.
  • Know how much you're drinking: Lots of people are shocked when they add up how much they really drink. Pay attention to the strength of drinks, or to the labels on bottles telling you how many units of alcohol the drink contains. DrinkAware's calculator can help you work out how much you drink and if you should cut down.
  • Alternate with soft drinks: Having a non-alcoholic drink for every alcoholic one helps you to drink less, stops you absorbing alcohol as quickly, and keeps you hydrated. As if that wasn't enough, it's cheaper, too.
  • Take some time off: For some people, drinking is a nightly routine, but this doesn't give you time to recover properly. Days without alcohol are an important part of staying healthy.
  • Stick together. If you or someone in your group of friends has had too much to drink, look out for one another. When you are drunk you are much more vulnerable. Learn to recognise the signs of alcohol poisoning and what to do.
  • Remember to eat before drinking: Drinking on an empty stomach speeds up the effects of alcohol on your system. Lining your stomach with food should help you tolerate your drink better.
  • Get help if you need it: If you think you've had too much to drink, let someone know you need help. If you're worried about how much or how often you're drinking overall, talk to your GP

Isn't a little bit of alcohol good for me?

It's true that some studies have suggested that small amounts of alcohol can have health benefits - but most people drink enough that the harm outweighs the potential benefits. Don't let this be an excuse to drink!

Understanding units

A unit of alcohol is 10ml of pure alcohol. This is roughly the amount that the average adult can process in an hour. It's recommended that women don't regularly drink more than 2-3 units and men don't regularly drink more than 3-4.

Cans and bottles normally have the number of units they contain printed on the label.

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