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These are worrying times, but alcohol is not the answer. Many people have found themselves drinking more during the pandemic – and at levels that can harm health. It is more important than ever before to look after our mental wellbeing and physical health – and cutting back on alcohol can help us do that.

Alcohol can be more harmful than you realise and just a couple of glasses a night can put you at greater risk. The Chief Medical Officer recommends that to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.

Risks

Immune system

Alcohol use, especially heavy use, weakens the immune system and reduces the ability to cope with infectious diseases such as coronavirus.

Alcohol will not stimulate immunity and virus resistance – it will not destroy the virus.

From World Health Organisation: https://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/442690/FAQ-COVID-19-alcohol.pdf (opens PDF).

Physical health:

Cancer: alcohol raises the risks of at least seven types of cancer – of the breast, bowel, mouth, larynx, oesophagus, upper throat and liver. Find out more about the 7 types of cancer.

Heart: Drinking can have a harmful effect on your heart. Alcohol can cause abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure and damage to your heart muscle. Find out what you need to know about alcohol and the heart.

Stroke: alcohol can increase your risk of stroke, even if you don’t drink very large amounts. And if you’ve had a stroke, alcohol could increase your risk of another stroke. This is because alcohol contributes to a number of medical conditions that are risk factors for stroke, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, being overweight, an irregular heartbeat and liver damage.

Blood pressure: Regularly drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure to unhealthy levels which can lead to other serious health conditions. High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke. More than 1 in 4 adults nationally are living with high blood pressure.

Liver: Drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time means the liver doesn’t get a chance to recover. This can result in serious and permanent damage. Alcohol is the leading cause of liver disease in the UK, which is the biggest killer of 35 to 49-year olds.

Mental health

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, regularly drinking alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain and can increase the risk of depression. Increased consumption can also affect our sleep, make us feel more tired and sluggish, and trap people in a cycle of feeling low and more anxious.

People who have done Dry January often talk about feeling more positive and alert. Read this blog by consultant psychiatrist Dr Eilish Gilvarry.

Weight

Reducing your drinking can help you lose weight. Many people aren’t sure about the number of calories in their drinks.

Two standard glasses of wine or 330ml bottles of lager have around 300 calories – the same as a burger and would take a half hour backstroke swim to work off. Being overweight can lead to many serious health conditions and can increase your risk of heart and circulatory diseases such as heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes and vascular dementia.

Visit our page on Alcohol and Calories.

Social distancing: Alcohol is a depressant. It can affect concentration and coordination and slow down the person’s ability to respond to unexpected situations. Even in small doses it can cause a person to feel more relaxed and less inhibited.

Widespread concerns have been raised about the role alcohol plays in blurring the lines around social distancing. Alcohol can be harmful at the best of times, but these aren’t the best of times – so that’s why it’s even more important to keep track of our drinking to protect ourselves and others.

What Can I Do

If you reduce your drinking, your body and mind will thank you.

Reducing your drinking can reduce your risks, do wonders for your waist-line and bank balance and generally make you feel lots better in yourself.

Know your units

Staying within 14 units a week is the best thing we can all do to keep our risks from alcohol low to stay healthy right now.

Fourteen units means around six pints of regular strength beer or lager, six standard glasses of wine or seven double measures of spirits. Do you know your units? Try our quiz.

Take more Drink Free Days

Taking more drink free days is a good way to cut down. Having days where you don’t drink can help your body recover, break the cycle of daily drinking (LINK)

Our tips

  1. Try not to stockpile alcohol. Limit the amount of alcohol you buy in and opt for non-alcoholic drinks to help you stay within the 14 unit low-risk weekly guidelines.
  2. Having at least three drink-free days every week is a great way to cut down on how much you’re drinking. Visit our support page to download the free Drink Free Days app.
  3. Think about being a good role model to your kids around alcohol, which includes how often and how much you drink alcohol. None of us want to teach our children that it’s normal to drink every night or to start each day at 4pm.
  4. You can track your units, calories and money saved when you cut down or cut out alcohol through the Try Dry app from Alcohol Change.
  5. Use a measure to pour your drinks – home-poured measures are often a lot more generous than those you’d get in the pub and contain more units and calories than a standard measure.
  6. If you feel like you should cut down, you’re in good company. An estimated 1 in 3 North East drinkers cut down or stopped drinking alcohol during lockdown.
  7. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, it can be tempting to turn to alcohol to help you relax. But here are some top ways to unwind from Alcohol Change UK that don’t involve alcohol
  8. When it comes to alcohol and young people, parents often find it confusing to know what to do for the best. The safest option is to follow the Chief Medical Officer guidelines that it is safest and healthiest for children to not drink before the age of 18. For advice every parent needs to know visit whatstheharm.co.uk
  9. Finally, if you are concerned about your own drinking or someone else’s, call the national alcohol helpline Drinkline on 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am–8pm, weekends 11am–4pm).
  10. Consuming alcohol is not an excuse to drop social distancing. Keeping to social distancing can help keep our schools and economy going and prevent pressure on the NHS.

Further information

World Health Organisation: Alcohol and COVID-19: what you need to know (opens PDF).

Alcohol Change - Alcohol and coronavirus information hub

Alcohol, hypertension and stroke - the Stroke Association https://www.stroke.org.uk/sites/default/files/alcohol_and_stroke.pdf (opens PDF)

Alcohol and the liver - the British Liver Trust https://britishlivertrust.org.uk/information-and-support/living-with-a-liver-condition/liver-conditions/alcohol/

Alcohol and Cancer - Cancer Research UK https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/alcohol-and-cancer

Alcohol and mental health - Alcohol Change https://alcoholchange.org.uk/alcohol-facts/fact-sheets/alcohol-and-mental-health

Alcohol and the heart - British Heart Foundation https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/support/healthy-living/healthy-eating/alcohol

Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. If you're worried about your own or someone else's drinking, you can call this free helpline in complete confidence. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am to 8pm, weekends 11am to 4pm).

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SEE MORE HINTS AND TIPS

Paul shares his cutting back story

Keep track of drinks

Take part in our quick poll

Have a smaller drink

Alternate between drinks

Avoid drinking at home

Have more alcohol-free days

Top 10 tips to help you cut down

TAKE DRINK FREE DAYS WITH OUR FREE APP.

DOWNLOAD THE FREE ONE YOU DRINK FREE DAYS APP AND TAKE BACK CONTROL.

TAKE DRINK FREE DAYS WITH OUR FREE APP.

DRINKING A LITTLE TOO MUCH?

The free One You Drink Free Days app is a simple and easy way to track the days you drink alcohol and the days you don't.

Feel healthier, lose weight and save money – simply nominate days to take off drinking and get practical, daily support to help you stick to it.

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