“‘Tis the season to be jolly” is a line from a popular carol song too often taken to heart by some Brits who drink excessively over the festive period. Last year, the sale of beer,wine and spirits during the last four weeks of the year was up by 5.7%; in the last two weeks of December 2016 the UK spent £5.9 billion on alcohol. With some students just recovering from freshers’ ‘week’ (which seems to last longer each year) it’s time to start thinking about moderating our alcohol intake before the festive season kicks off.
Reduce your units
Alcoholic drinks vary in strength depending on the alcohol by volume (ABV), usually displayed as a percentage on a bar pump, can or a bottle. Most ales and lager shave an ABV of 3-6%; compare that with absinthe, one of the strongest drinks on the market with an ABV of 45 – 75%. Due to the wide variety of alcoholic drinks and brands on the market, the alcohol industry must follow regulations that say producers must state the number of units per measure on alcohol packaging (one unit is equal to a ten-millimetre spirit shot;a small 125ml glass of wine is roughly 1.4 units).
So, five glasses of bubbly (175ml measure) on Christmas day will just push you over the government’s recommended guidelines of 14 units per week. The Drinkaware Trust is an alcohol education charity that recommends people spread the number of units they drink evenly over the course of seven days rather than in one binge. While alcohol guidelines vary from country to country, with many making different recommendations based on a person’s sex, the UK has recently updated their guidelines to a gender-neutral set of recommendations that intend to reduce the general population’s consumption of alcohol thereby relieving the NHS of a number of alcohol-related health problems
We shouldn’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week, even at Christmas time. Units tell us just how strong our drinks are – 250ml of beer is just as strong as a shot of whiskey. Know your limits this winter @Drinkaware pic.twitter.com/Xk7ll2esYw
— NHS North East Essex (@NEECCG) December 9, 2017
Tip: Reduce the number of units you drink at home by ordering a unit measure cup instead of free pouring wines and spirits.
One unit of alcohol takes the body about an hour to process. The speed alcohol is absorbed depends on: if the drink is carbonated; the person’s age, height or weight; their last meal; whether the alcohol is consumed in combination with prescription or illicit drugs; and the ABV.
Alcohol is otherwise known by its chemical name, ethanol, which interacts with the body’s anti-diuretic hormone regulating the amount of water filtered through the kidneys. This is why drinking alcohol makes the person need to urinate – known as ‘breaking the seal’ because the first visit to the toilet often leads to many more. These toilet trips speed up the onset of dehydration, affecting the brain’s communication pathways and impacting the person’s ability to think rationally. Ethanol’s toxic effects are at the root of alcohol-related hormonal alteration and dehydration, leading to the inevitable hangover, characterised by symptoms of diarrhoea, fatigue, headache and nausea.
Tip: Drink water in between alcoholic drinks to slow your drinking speed – always stay hydrated.
Mixing alcohol with drugs
If you are on prescription medication it isn’t advisable to consume alcohol as some antibiotics like metronidazole (used to treat dental or vaginal infections) and tinidazole (for bacterial infections in the gut) can slow your breathing and heart rate. Alcohol is a depressant, which can exacerbate these side effects. Other antibiotics like amoxicillin (commonly prescribed for chest infections) aren’t quite as dangerous when mixed with alcohol, rather they stop working when combined with alcohol. Whatever type of medication you’re taking, it’s best to seek advice from a pharmacist or your doctor.
One of the most dangerous drugs to use in combination with alcohol is cocaine. interaction between ethanol and cocaine in the body creates a new chemical,‘cocaethylene’, that the body struggles to metabolise. This increases the risk of liver damage or a heart attack. Some people may be more inclined to crave drugs when they have lost their inhibitions due to alcohol; this makes cocaine a popular drug used in combination with alcohol to elevate the ‘high’. Cocaine gives a sensation of invincibility, so people often binge drink at the cost of their own health.+
Tip: Avoid mixing alcohol with either prescription or illicit drugs
Look after your mental health
In a culture where drinking is the social norm it is easy to excuse / ignore the impact it might be having on your mental health, physical health, and relationships. https://t.co/EeiGjplK7S #depression #bingedrinking #alcohol #relationships pic.twitter.com/qAEqs0WN8a
— Kerry Sutton (@InsyncCounsel) December 13, 2017
At Christmas, poor mental health is more widespread than we often imagine; some people experience isolation or loneliness, and some stressed individuals use the festive period to ‘blow off steam’ through the use of alcohol and/or drugs. Longitudinal studies have found a relationship between people who are diagnosed with anxiety disorders, social phobias or depression and excessive drinking habits; alcohol use is driven by pleasure-seeking behaviour as it increases serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain to stimulate a positive mood, so the next day a chemical imbalance means the person feels an alcohol ‘low’, sometimes experiencing more severe anxiety symptoms such as palpitations, negative thoughts or panic attacks. It is important to recognise your own patterns of alcohol use and when you might feel more inclined to drink more, so you can maintain a better relationship with alcohol.
Tip: Download the free Drink Coach app to track your drinking. The app also contains great mindful exercises.
Use these tips over the festive period to reduce the number or units you drink -end the year on a healthy and happy note!