Alcohol Misuse and Binge Drinking
This Hot Topic looks at why some people drink to excess, identifies some of the health risks and looks at the recent concerns over binge drinking in British society.Why do people drink?
There are a variety of reasons why people drink. For many people drinking is a social activity - alcohol can make you feel happy, more confident and extrovert in the short term. However, in the longer term, alcohol is a depressant. Other people use alcohol as a means of coping with stress. In certain cases, people drink because they are addicted to alcohol.
How much should we drink?
The recommended sensible limits for alcohol consumption are:
Adult male - 3-4 units per day
Adult female - 2-3 units per day
One 175ml glass of wine = 2 units
One pint of normal strength beer or lager = 2 units
One 275ml bottle of 'alcopop' = 1.5 units
A single measure (25ml) of spirits = 1 unit
In recent years, there has been a discernable growth in 'binge drinking' especially amongst the young, resulting in Government research and action to combat the problem. The initial difficulty facing researchers in the field is the lack of a clear definition of 'binge drinking'. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) define 'heavy drinking' as eight or more units for men and six or more for women. In the UK, binge drinking accounts for 40% of all alcohol consumption. It is also recognised that binge drinking is a characteristic of the 16 -24 age group. There is a significant increase in the amount of women binge drinking. This may be down to the fact that women try to compete with or equal their male counterparts, but because their bodies are lighter the amount of alcohol they can tolerate is substantially less.
In the current climate, the concern appears to be with the social implications of binge drinking, rowdiness and unsociable behaviour. However, studies have indicated that this behaviour when young can set a pattern for later life and trigger the related health risks.
Excess drinking creates the risk of long term health problems that are directly linked to consumption levels. Excessive drinking can affect the body in many ways including:
- Liver cirrhosis
- High blood pressure
- Fertility problems
- Mental health disorders
Excessive drinking is far more harmful to children or adolescents than adults. They can enter a coma state at lower blood alcohol levels and are susceptible to low blood sugar, hypothermia and can develop breathing difficulties. Likewise, older people can experience higher blood alcohol levels with smaller amounts of consumption. This is due to the physiological changes of aging i.e. a decrease in body water content and muscle.
Alcohol affects the immune system and lowers the individual's resistance to a wide range of infections, including HIV, Tuberculosis and Pneumonia. It has been estimated that alcohol alone is responsible for 3% of all causes of cancer.
People who drink excessive amounts of alcohol on a regular or daily basis are prone to mental health problems which can include the following:
- suicidal tendencies
- personality deterioration
- sexual problems
- delirium tremens (dt's)
- memory loss
There are other associated risks with excessive drinking, these include:
- Clouding of judgement
- Aggresive or violent behaviour
- Poor social behaviour
- Drink driving or operation of machinery
- Unsafe sex
- Time off work
In short, alcohol can put you at risk in more ways than you could imagine.
There are many organisations you can to turn to for help if you think you may be at risk or are addicted to alcohol.
Alcohol Concern - the national agency on alcohol misuse.
Alcoholics Anonymous - webiste maintained by the UK branch of this worldwide organisation.
Department of Health pages on Alcohol Misuse
NHS Direct pages on alcohol misuse
Patient UK - provides useful leaflets and a directory of support organisations
NetDoctor - Alcoholism