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 harm your health. Chief Medical Officer (CMO) guidance to keep health risks from alcohol low is that it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.

Here are just some of the health risks of drinking alcohol, and a reminder of why it’s so important to stay within the CMO’s guidelines.  

CANCER

You might not see it on the label but alcohol raises the risks of at least seven types of cancer – of the breast, bowel, mouth, larynx, oesophagus, upper throat and liver. 

The fact is that you don’t need to be a heavy drinker to be more at risk - any level of regular drinking raises the risks of cancer. Find out more about the link between alcohol and cancer.  

HEART

Drinking too much regularly and over a long period of time can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD). This is an umbrella name for conditions that affect your heart or circulation, which include high blood pressure, stroke and vascular dementia. It is one of the biggest causes of death and ill-health in the UK.

Serious conditions such as cardiomyopathy (damage to the heart muscle which means it can’t work as efficiently) and abnormal heart rhythms can be caused by alcohol consumption, and increase your risk of stroke. Find out what you need to know about alcohol and the heart.

STROKE

Regular drinking, even in small amounts, can raise your risk of stroke and if you’ve had a stroke, alcohol could increase your risk of another stroke[i]. 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[ii]. High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke. More than 1 in 4 adults nationally are living with high blood pressure. If you drink regularly, limiting your alcohol intake can help lower your blood pressure. Find out more  

LIVER

Drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time can result in damage to our liver, ranging from fatty liver to cirrhosis. Alcohol is the leading cause of liver disease in the UK, which is the biggest killer of 35 to 49-year olds[iii].  

Every time we drink alcohol, our liver has to filter it in order to break it down and remove it from the body. Some liver cells die during this process, which is why the liver needs a break from alcohol to allow it to regenerate and make new cells. 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.

MENTAL HEALTH

Alcohol has been described as ‘the UK’s favourite coping mechanism’, and some people drink to try and help manage stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health problems.

However the effects are short lived and alcohol can worsen the symptoms of many mental health problems. In particular, it can lead to low mood and anxiety.
Regularly drinking alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain and can increase the risk of depression. Increased consumption can also harm our sleep, make us feel more tired and sluggish.

People who have taken a month off alcohol often talk about feeling more positive and alert. Read this blog by consultant psychiatrist Dr Eilish Gilvarry.  

WEIGHT

Alcohol is full of calories. 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  

BRAIN

Alcohol can cause damage to the brain. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, those with Alcohol Related Brain Damage (ARBD) suffer from problems such as memory loss, loss of cognitive functioning and difficulty concentrating, as well as experiencing depression and irritability. This is also sometimes known as Alcohol-related ‘dementia’.

More serious cases of this alcohol-related 'dementia' can leave sufferers struggling with familiar, day to day tasks similar to Alzheimer’s disease. The best way to reduce the risk of developing ARBD is to keep track of your drinking and ensure you drink no more than the recommended 14 units per week[iv].  

IMMUNE SYSTEM

Alcohol use, especially heavy use, weakens the immune system and reduces the ability to cope with infectious diseases, making you more susceptible to colds and flu[v].   

To learn more about the Chief Medical Officer’s low risk guidelines and to find out how to reduce your drinking to look after your health, check out our top tips.

 

[i] https://www.stroke.org.uk/what-is-stroke/what-can-i-do-to-reduce-my-risk/drink-less-alcohol

[ii] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-blood-pressure-hypertension/prevention/

[iii] https://britishlivertrust.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/statistics/#:~:text=Shockingly%2C%20liver%20disease%20is%20the,disease%20have%20increased%20by%20400%25.

[iv] https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/types-dementia/alcohol-related-brain-damage-arbd

[v] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-misuse/risks/

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