You may not realise it but alcohol is a powerful drug and by drinking a lot you are opening yourself up to a wide range of medical and behavioural problems. While drinking you are also making yourself more vulnerable to personal harm and crime.
People drink alcohol for all sorts of different reasons. Some people find that it helps to make them more sociable, relaxed and confident. However, you should never rely on alcohol to feel good about yourself nor should you feel pressured by your friends to drink more than you want too.
There are a huge variety of different alcoholic drinks on the market and these come in different strengths. The strength of the drink is shown as a percentage (%) on the container – the higher the % – the more alcohol the drink has in it.
Drinks like whiskey, gin, vodka, pernod, rum and brandy are called spirits and have the highest %. Ready mixed drinks like alcopops are normally made from a base spirit such as vodka, so even if they taste nice and fruity they can be quite strong.
Wines, beers, lagers and ciders all come in various strengths so check the label. It is always important to know exactly what you are drinking and how strong it is.
Most people start having problems when they mix their drinks or if they have drunk quickly or on an empty stomach. It takes your body one hour to process one unit of alcohol (a unit is half a pint of normal strength beer or a small glass of wine).
If you are drinking a lot or drinking quickly your body won’t be able to cope and you will be drunk. Once you are drunk there is no going back, drinking lots of water will help rehydrate you but you won’t be sober until your body has processed all the alcohol.
Check out the anti-binge drinking campaign adverts…
How much is too much?
Health experts warn adult men to drink no more than 3-4 units of alcohol per day and adult women to drink no more than 2-3 units per day. One unit of alcohol is about half a pint of normal strength beer, a small glass of wine or one measure of spirits.
When you are out drinking with friends, keep an eye on your drink. Don’t leave your drink and then go back to it as it could have been spiked. Spiking is when something is put in your drink that could make you really ill. It might even make you pass out and forget where you are.
Don’t accept an open drink from some-one you don’t know – if they offer to buy you a drink and you want to accept – go to the bar with them.
If you start feeling woozy and strange after a drink or two get help from some-one you know and trust or from a member of staff.
There are many long-term health risks associated with drinking too much alcohol. These include increasing the risk of raised blood pressure and weight gain. Continuing to drink heavily over time could cause liver, stomach, kidneys and heart problems.
Heavy drinking could also lead to emotional problems, behavioural changes and alcohol dependency. This affects different people in different ways. You may get more aggressive and not be a lot of fun to be around or, as alcohol is a depressant, you may become moody, irritable and easily depressed.
There are also a lot of short-term risks, drunken accidents, choking on vomit, unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, vulnerability to assault, abuse and rape and unwitting involvement in crime.
If you do decide to drink, find out the facts and use your common sense to drink sensibly and safely.
Is Your Drinking Getting Out of Hand?
Some people let their drinking get out of control. In some cases an addiction to alcohol is formed, known as alcoholism.
There are a number of signs that suggest your drinking is getting out of hand. See if you recognise any of the following:
- You find that you become louder, more aggressive and generally not very nice to be around when you are drunk. If your friends have started to notice this too, then it could to time to cut back on your drinking.
- You find that you are getting hurt when you are drunk from falling over and not being totally in control of yourself. If this is the case and you find yourself losing control or blacking out, this could be serious. Cut back on your drinking before you seriously hurt yourself and seek help.
- You are drinking to try and forget a worry or something that is on your mind. Getting drunk is only a short term option and in the morning your problems will still be there so face them without turning to alcohol for help.
- By drinking excessively over time you find that your tolerance to alcohol has increased and you are drinking more and more to reach the same state. This is not a good sign and it could mean that you are building up a dependency.
If you feel that you or someone you know is drinking too much, there are people you can go to for support. Talk to a trusted adult – your parents or carer, an older family member, your doctor or get in touch with any of the contacts below.
Above all, remember that drinking alcohol in moderation can be a lot of fun and will do you little harm. Just don’t drink too much, read the facts and learn to read the signs in yourself and others.
Alcohol and the Law
The law states that at the age of 18 you can buy and drink alcohol legally in licensed premises in Britain. However, you need to be aware of the following rules:
- It is illegal to give an alcoholic drink to a child under 5 except in certain circumstances e.g. under medical supervision.
- If you are under 14 you cannot go into a bar or pub unless the pub has a ‘children’s certificate’.
- If you are aged 14 and 15 you can go into a pub but can’t drink alcohol.
- If you are aged 16 and 17 you can buy, or be bought, beer or cider so long as it’s to drink with a meal. This only applies to areas set aside specifically for meals.
- Except for the above rule it’s against the law for anyone under 18 to buy alcohol in a pub, off-licence or supermarket. It’s also illegal to buy alcohol for someone who is not 18.
Who can help?
If you feel that you, or someone close to you, may be drinking too much or even becoming dependant on alcohol there are lots of people that can help you.
Talking to your family or friends about drinking problems can be really hard but remember that they are there to support you. You an also talk in confidence to you GP.
For straight talking information and advice on the effects and risks associated with drinking too much alcohol or are worried about someone else, FRANK can help. Visit www.talktofrank.com/azofdrugs/A/Alcohol.aspx or phone 0800 77 66 00, minicom 0800 917 8765
The Know Your Limits website is youth-orientated and has useful information about alcohol and sensible drinking for young people. www.knowyourlimits.gov.uk
Alcohol Concern is the UK body that supports people with any issues they may have with alcohol abuse. Find out more about how they can help you by visiting their website at www.alcoholconcern.org.uk.
Alcoholics Anonymous can help people that have become dependant on alcohol. Visit their site at www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/.
Turning Point is a social care organisation working with individuals and their communities across England and Wales in many areas including alcohol misuse. Visit Turning Point at www.turning-point.co.uk
NHS Choices has information on the health risks of excessive drinking, advice on cutting down, and where to get support for alcohol problems. Visit Drinking and alcohol
Drinkline is a national helpline that provides counselling, support, advice and information on any issues relating to drinking. You can call Drinkline on 0345 320202 and calls are charged at local rates.
Teen Life Check is a quick and easy online quiz for 12-15 year-olds that lets you check out your health and lifestyle. Your answers and results are confidential and you’ll get some useful advice on issues such as bullying, stress, home life, crime, healthy eating, exercise, safe sex, drugs, alcohol and more. Visit www.teenlifecheck.co.uk.