Alcohol - drinking wisely

Written by: 
Dr Knut Schroeder, General Practitioner and Author, Diagnosing Your Health Symptoms For Dummies

Here are some tips on staying safe when drinking alcohol – and how to prevent and treat a hangover.

What are safe alcohol limits?

Research has shown that drinking 8-10 units of alcohol per day over extended time periods results in reduced brain function. Everyone is different, but for most people the following amounts of alcohol are unlikely to cause problems to their health:

  • Men: 21 units of alcohol per week, and no more than four units in a day
  • Women: 14 units of alcohol per week, and no more than three units in a day (though it’s best to avoid alcohol during pregnancy)

As a rough guide, half a pint of standard-strength beer contains a unit of alcohol, while a small glass (125ml) of standard strength wine (12.5%) contain about one and a half units. Not knowing safe limits and when to stop can have serious consequences: for example, in 2009/10, there were well over one million alcohol related admissions to hospital in the UK. You can find further tips and information around alcohol and a useful online calculator to estimate alcohol units in various drinks at www.drinkaware.co.uk.

How can I cut down on the booze and avoid drinking too much?

If you want to avoid drinking too much alcohol, try the following:

  • Drink slowly
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks or water
  • Switch to drinks with a lower alcohol content and avoid the stronger varieties
  • Whenever you buy other people a drink, get a non-alcoholic one for yourself
  • Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’, or ‘not now’ to anyone who urges you to drink
  • Nominate yourself as the designated driver if you wish to avoid alcohol

How can I avoid – or deal with – a hangover?

Most people who drink too much know that horrible morning-after feeling, which often involves feeling sick, a banging headache, dizziness, diarrhoeaWhen bowel evacuation happens more often than usual, or where the faeces are abnormally liquid., weakness and tiredness. Consequently, such a hangover can leave you irritable and may make it difficult for you to concentrate – which is not great if you want to enjoy the next day. To avoid a hangover, keep to the recommended limits and:

  • Avoid drinking on an empty stomach – eat something (preferably containing carbohydratesA group of compounds that are an important energy source, including sugars and starch.) before you start drinking to slow down the absorption of alcohol.
  • Consider stopping to drink well before the end of the evening, so that your body can start to process the alcohol. 

If you do get a hangover, drink plenty of water, get lots of rest if you can, and eat something – bananas and kiwis, for example, are good to replenish potassium An element that is one of the main ions, or charged atoms, of intracellular fluid, and is also important in nerve and muscle function.(which you may lose because of the stimulating effect of alcohol on urine production).