Knowing your safe alcohol limits

Moderate alcohol intake is just fine, and often one of the pleasures of life. How can we make sure that tipple doesn’t damage our health?

What’s safe for who?

We usually measure alcohol in ‘units’ (see below).

In recent years, doctors have added a safe daily, as well as weekly, limit That’s because some people used to think they could drink all their week’s units on a single night – not a pretty sight!

  • For women, the recommended safe limits are;
    • Not more than 14 units in a week and
    • Not more than 2-3 units in a day
  • For men, they are:
    • Not more than 21 units in a week and
    • Not more than 3-4 units in a day

So if you’re a woman drinking 3 units on an average night, you need a couple of ‘alcohol free days’ every week
If you have diabetes you shouldn’t drink more than 1-2 units a day

Why are the limits lower for women?

It does seem unfair, doesn’t it! However, it’s all to do with the levels of alcohol in your bloodstream. Women have more body fat and less body water on average than men, even if they weigh the same. As a result, their blood alcohol levels – and the possible damage from alcohol – is higher.

What’s in a unit?

There is one unit of alcohol in:
Beer – ½ a pint of normal strength beer or lager (some ‘extra strong’ lagers have almost twice this much)
Wine – a small (110ml) glass of wine. There are 9 units in most bottles of wine, and a ‘small’ glass of wine in a pub has just over 2 units. All too often, wine bars and pubs offer a ‘large’ glass of wine as standard – a single large glass contains 3 units
Spirits – a single pub measure (25ml) of spirits

What harm does alcohol do?

It’s easier to list the parts of the body that aren’t damaged by alcohol than the ones that are! We all know alcohol can harm your liver, but it can also raise your risk of heart attack and stroke; cause stomach ulcers; and bring on dementia, as well as making depression and accidents more likely.

Do I need to worry?

It’s not just people who get drunk and incapable who damage their bodies
More and more of the people I see with alcohol related damage aren’t ‘binge drinkers’ – they start off having a glass of wine to unwind. As they get used to alcohol, they need more to have the same effect and their drinking creeps up. It’s well worth measuring your wine and spirit glasses and keeping a diary of how much you drink. Don’t cheat – you’re the only one who will suffer!

Alcohol Dependant

Doctors use lots of different tools to assess if patients have a problem with drinking. That’s partly because there are so many patterns of drinking – from the binge drinker who vomits on street corners to the ‘secret drinker’ whose family have no idea.
I find the ‘CAGE’ questionnaire useful – but you have to be honest with your answers.

  • C - Have you ever thought you should Cut down on your drinking?
  • A - Have you ever felt Angry when others have commented on your drinking?
  • G - Have you ever felt Guilty about your drinking?
  • E - Have you ever needed an ‘Eye opener’ (a drink in the morning) to get going?

Other questions you might ask yourself include:

  • Have you been unable to stop once you started drinking?
  • Have you failed to do what was expected of you (whether work or personal commitments) because of alcohol?
  • Have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because of alcohol?
  • Have you or anyone else been injured because of your drinking?

If you crave alcohol when you don’t have it for a day or two, you definitely have a problem. If your units add up to more than 35 a week (for a woman) or 50 a week (for a man) you should seek help.

There is a huge amount that can be done to help, and your doctor will be sympathetic if you explain your concerns. They will know only too well how much courage it takes to seek help.

With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.