Trident Medical Services

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Alcohol awareness

Alcohol awareness
 

More than 9 million people in the UK drink more than recommended and the UK has one of the highest rates of binge drinking in Europe (binge drinking is when five or more drinks are consumed within one to two hours). So how much is too much, what are the effects and what can we do to cut down?

For those of us who enjoy a drink, the challenge is to find a healthy and enjoyable drinking pattern that allows us to enjoy the positive benefits, whilst avoiding the potentially harmful effects. Most people manage to achieve this reasonably well, but a growing number of us consume far too much alcohol and, as a society, we are paying an increasingly heavy price for the privilege.

What happens when we drink?

When we drink, alcohol passes virtually unchanged from the mouth into the stomach.  About 20% is immediately absorbed into the blood stream through the stomach wall. The remaining 80% passes into the small gut where it is absorbed into the blood stream.

Alcohol is carried to your liver as well as other organs of the body. The liver cannot store the alcohol and breaks it down into water, gas and fat. As the liver processes this alcohol it produces a toxin or poison called acetaldehyde. This is what causes a hangover.  

Factors that affect our reactions

Why is it that some people can handle their drink better than others? Or sometimes we feel worse than other times after drinking? There are many factors that affect our reaction to alcohol including;

  • the amount of alcohol we have drunk;
  • our weight - the same amount of alcohol has a greater effect on a light person than on a heavy person;
  • our gender - a given amount of alcohol has a greater effect on a woman than on a man;
  • eating food - the presence of food in the stomach tends to slow down the rate of absorption of alcohol into the blood stream - this is why drinking on an empty stomach is to be avoided;
  • speed of drinking - the faster we drink alcohol the more rapidly the blood level of alcohol will increase.
How can alcohol affect us in the short-term?

Most of us know the symptoms of drinking too much alcohol – slurred speech, impaired judgement, blurred vision, difficulty with balance and slower reaction times amongst other things. However, if someone drinks too much alcohol, especially if it is drunk very quickly they can get alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol poisoning

Alcohol, as well as being a drug, is a poison and can have lethal consequences. Your body can only process one unit of alcohol an hour. So binge drinking can cause alcohol poisoning.

Symptom of alcohol poisoning may include;

  • confusion
  • loss of co-ordination
  • vomiting
  • seizures
  • irregular or slow breathing
  • blue or pale skin
  • feeling cold
  • stupor (awake but unresponsive)
  • unconsciousness.

So what should you do if someone has alcohol poisoning?

  • Keep them awake and sitting up.
  • Encourage them to drink water.

If unconscious:

  • Dial 999.
  • Check they are breathing normally.
  • Place them in the recovery position.
  • Keep them warm.
  • Stay with them and monitor their airway.

What shouldn’t you do?

  • Never let someone sleep it off. Blood alcohol levels rise even when asleep.
  • Never give coffee. Coffee can cause further dehydration.
  • Never induce vomiting. Impaired gag reflex can cause choking.
  • Never walk them around. Impaired balance could cause a fall.
  • Never put them in a cold shower. This increases the chance of hypothermia.
  • Never give them more alcohol.
What are the long-term effects of drinking too much alcohol?

The liver breaks the alcohol down into water, gas and fat. This fat can over time cause a “fatty liver”. If you continue to drink you have a one in three chance of getting alcoholic hepatitis. This can lead on to cirrhosis of the liver which is irreversible.

Alcohol consumption can be a factor in many other medical conditions, including;

  • liver disease
  • osteoporosis
  • pancreatitis
  • stomach ulcers
  • infertility
  • heart disease
  • hypertension
  • mental health issues
  • stroke
  • dementia
  • damage to unborn child
  • brain damage
  • cancer (if you regularly drink above the lower risk guidelines you are three times more likely to get mouth or throat cancer and women increase their risk of breast cancer by up to 50%).
How much can we drink safely?

Alcohol is measured in units. Manufacturers put the number of alcohol units on bottles and cans. Mixed drinks can be harder to keep track of.

  • An average 175ml glass of wine is 2.3 units
  • An average pint of lager is 2.3 units
  • An average single spirit is 1 unit

Unit guidelines are now the same for men and women. The current recommended unit intake is: no more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. That means drinking no more than:

  • 6 x 175ml (13%) glasses of wine per week
  • 6 x pints of lager (4%) per week
  • 5 x pints of cider (4.5%) per week
  • 14 x single shots of spirits 25ml at 40%) per week

It is worth bearing in mind that in some pubs, bars or restaurants, glasses of wine may be larger than this (some serve 250ml) and spirits may be larger servings (some serve 30ml or serve a double measure).

How can you cut down?

Some ways to cut back on your drinking include;

  • switching to low alcohol drinks
  • Adding soda to your white wine (spritzers)
  • eating a meal before drinking
  • pacing yourself at celebrations
  • having a soft drink before each alcoholic drink
  • practicing how to say no to alcohol when its offered to you.
Drinking at work

Many organisations now perform drug and alcohol screening as part of their drug and alcohol policies. This can be done on a random basis to check members of staff do not have any alcohol or drugs in their system whilst at work. It is important to remember how long alcohol can take to leave your system – some people are unaware of the fact they may still have alcohol in their bloodstream the morning after drinking. Find out more about our drug and alcohol screening.

References

www.drinkaware.co.uk
www.alcoholconcern.org.uk
www.nhs.uk/change4life