Do you know the facts?
There are so many stories around alcohol and drinking that it’s hard to know what to believe. Being informed about the facts is the best way to make sure that you drink safely and reduce your risk.
A glass of wine or beer counts as one unit
Although many of us are aware of how many units make up the recommended low risk weekly guidelines, we often unknowingly exceed this limit of 14 units of alcohol by counting glasses instead of units.
The number of units in your glass of wine or beer not only depends on the size of the glass or bottle and the level it is filled to, but also on the alcohol content.
A large (250 ml) glass of 13% ABV red wine has more than three units of alcohol. A medium (175 ml) glass has about two units. A small (125 ml) glass will have between 1.4 and 1.8 units of alcohol depending on the strength of the wine.
A pint of 4% beer contains 2.3 units, while a strong lager will have more.
If in doubt, check out our handy guide to measure how much you are pouring into your favourite glass and pay attention to the glass size and strength when ordering in a pub or restaurant.
Alcohol can still be in your system the morning after
On average, it takes about 1 hour for your body to break down 1 single unit of alcohol. But remember a unit is not a drink - a large glass of wine can contain three units so can take around three hours for the body to break down.
This also depends on a range of factors, such as your weight, gender, age, the strength of alcohol, any medication you might be taking and how much food you have eaten.
Alcohol helps you get a good night's sleep
You might think that alcohol helps you crash out. But even just a couple of drinks can affect the quality of your sleep.
Studies have shown that drinking reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. That's the type of sleep which happens about 90 minutes after we fall asleep and is believed to be the most restorative to help us face the next day. Disruptions in REM sleep may cause daytime drowsiness, poor concentration, and rob you of some much-needed shuteye.
A survey of 800 people who took part in Dry January found that 7/10 said they slept better during the month as well as reporting many other benefits like saving money and having more energy.
Red Wine is good for you
We’ve all heard claims that red wine is good for the heart. But when it comes to cancer, even just one drink a day raises your risks and outweighs any possible benefits.
A review from the Committee on Carcinogenicity (CoC) has concluded that drinking alcohol increases the risk of getting cancers of the mouth and throat, voice box, gullet, large bowel, liver, or breast cancer in women and probably also cancer of the pancreas.
These risks start from any level of regular drinking and then rise with the amounts of alcohol being drunk.
The CoC found any benefits of alcohol for heart health only apply for women aged 55 and over and the greatest benefit is seen when these women limit their intake to between 5 and 14 units a week. It found that drinking even a small amount of alcohol increases the risk of some cancers compared with people who do not drink at all.
It is okay to save my units up for the weekend
If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best not to ‘save up’ the 14 units for 1 or 2 days, but to spread them over 3 or more days. People who have 1 or 2 heavy drinking sessions each week increase the risk of death from long term illnesses, accidents and injuries. A good way to reduce alcohol intake is to have several alcohol free days a week.
Moderate alcohol consumption is good for your health
Evidence shows that any level of regular drinking can increase your risk of cancer. You can keep your risks low by consuming less than 14 units of alcohol per week, but there are no proven population wide health benefits from drinking alcohol. In fact, alcohol is linked with over 60 different medical conditions.
Drinking water can reduce the effects of a hangover
Food and water may ease some of the symptoms of a hangover; however, they won’t cure it completely. The best way to avoid one is to moderate your drinking and have water between alcoholic drinks.
Alcohol is a stimulant
Alcohol is actually a depressant. Initially, you may feel more energetic or cheerful because alcohol depresses your inhibitions. However, it will then slow down the way you think, speak, move and react.
Alcohol can contribute to weight gain
Reducing your drinking to below 14 units a week lowers the risk of an alcohol related disease, but taking some days some days off the booze can also help your weight.
There can be around 240 calories in a large glass of red wine (more if you pour generously). That's more than the calories in a glazed doughnut or a slice of cake. If you drink beer, a couple of pints will add on around 390 calories - about the same as eating 9 deep fried chicken nuggets. Each day off means cutting those extra calories out.
This is because wine, beer, cider, spirits and all drinks are made from natural starch and sugar. Fermentation, and distillation for certain drinks, is used to produce the alcohol content, and explains why alcohol contains lots of calories.
And any sugar in mixers or cocktails comes on top of the calorie content in spirits. Alcohol can also reduce our self-control, making it easy to eat too much. Find out more.
Beer gets you less drunk
An average pint of beer (ABV 5%), large glass of wine (250ml, ABV 11%) or a ‘large’ double vodka and coke (70ml, ABV 38 to 40%) all have around 2.8 units of alcohol. It's the alcohol itself that makes you drunk, so it doesn’t matter what type of drink you have.
Drinking on a full stomach reduces the risk of getting drunk
Eating a big meal before you go out will not prevent you from getting drunk. It will only delay the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. However, it is best to eat a proper meal before a night out, especially foods rich in carbohydrates and proteins.
Introducing children to alcohol earlier make them less likely to binge drink
Evidence shows drinking alcohol can damage a child's health even if they're 15 or older. It can affect the development of vital organs and functions, including the brain, liver, bones and hormones, and can be linked to depression and risky behaviour. Young people who start drinking at an early age drink more, and more frequently, than those who delay their first alcoholic drink. They are also more likely to have problems with alcohol later in life. Setting clear boundaries as a parent can help.
Mixing drinks will make you more drunk
Your blood alcohol content is what determines how drunk you are. Mixing drinks may make you feel sicker by upsetting your stomach, but not more intoxicated.
Drinking more than a glass of wine a day may reduce your chances of getting pregnant
Women who drink a lot can find it more difficult to conceive. A study reported by the British Medical Journal found that as few as five drinks every week may decrease a woman's chance of becoming pregnant. If you want to conceive, it's best to avoid alcohol completely.
Drinking too much alcohol can reduce male fertility
Alcohol decreases fertility by having an adverse effect on sperm quality and quantity. Men trying for a family may want to consider reducing their overall alcohol consumption.