See your doctor or practice nurse if you are drinking above the recommended limits of alcohol and are finding it difficult to cut down.
Your liver processes alcohol. It can only cope with so much at a time. Drinking more alcohol than the liver can cope with can damage liver cells and produce toxic by-product chemicals.
The more you drink, and especially above the recommended limits, the greater the risk of developing serious problems such as: liver disease (cirrhosis or hepatitis); cancer; gut and pancreas disorders; depression; anxiety; sexual difficulties; muscle and heart muscle disease; high blood pressure; damage to nervous tissue; serious accidents; obesity (alcohol is calorie-rich). See separate leaflet called Alcohol and sensible drinking for more details.
Alcohol gets to a baby through the placenta if a pregnant woman drinks alcohol. A baby cannot process alcohol very well. So, any alcohol in your baby stays in their body much longer than in you. This is known to be a risk for causing serious problems such as: a low birth weight; learning, behavioural, and thinking (cognitive) problems; defects of the heart and other organs; abnormal facial features. When these problems are severe, the condition is called fetal alcohol syndrome.
However, there has been debate over the years as to whether small amounts of alcohol are safe to drink during pregnancy. Also, if there is a time of pregnancy when alcohol is most likely to cause harm. But, recent research supports the advice of not drinking any alcohol whilst pregnant.
For example, a study by Feldman et all (cited below) looked at the relationship between drinking alcohol during pregnancy and it causing facial defects in the baby. This study showed that the more alcohol a woman drank, the more likely there was to be a facial defect in the baby. BUT, there was no safe amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy, as there was still some risk with small amounts of alcohol. The study also found that drinking alcohol has risks throughout pregnancy, but it may be most likely to cause facial defects during weeks 6-12 of pregnancy. The authors of the study concluded that ... "Women should continue to be advised to abstain from alcohol consumption from conception throughout pregnancy."
One unit of alcohol is 10 ml (1 cl) by volume, or 8 g by weight, of pure alcohol. For example:
But remember, many wines and beers are stronger than the more traditional ordinary strengths. A more accurate way of calculating units is as follows: the percentage alcohol by volume (% abv) of a drink equals the number of units in one litre of that drink. For example:
Three pints of beer, three times per week, is at least 18-20 units per week. That is nearly the upper weekly safe limit for a man. However, each drinking session of three pints is at least six units, which is more than the safe limit advised for any one day. Another example: a 750 ml bottle of 12% wine contains nine units. If you drink two bottles of 12% wine over a week, that is 18 units. This is above the upper safe limit for a woman.
For men aged over 40 and for women past the menopause, it is thought that drinking a small amount of alcohol helps to protect against heart disease and stroke. The exact amount is not clear, but it is a small amount. So, do not exceed the recommended amount of alcohol as described above in a mistaken belief that it may be good for the heart.