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Alcohol can seem like a lot of fun. But alcohol is a drug and can be harmful. Here are some things you need to know about alcohol and the risks.
Alcohol – the facts
Alcohol is the most commonly used mood-altering drug in this country. To some people, alcohol is considered an essential part of celebrations and is part of many social and leisure activities.
But alcohol can cause problems. We know that some people suffer physically, financially, socially and psychologically because of their drinking habits – but did you know that even small quantities of alcohol can have an effect on our body and brain?
Not everybody drinks alcohol and more young people are choosing not to drink. Making a positive choice not to drink can keep you healthier and keep more money in your pocket!
How alcohol measures up
There are different amounts of alcohol in different types and sizes of drinks. Alcohol is measured in ‘units’. One unit is 15mg of alcohol. Half a pint of ordinary beer, a single bar measure of spirits and a small glass of wine (bar measure) all contain one unit of alcohol.
When people pour an alcoholic drink at home they may well pour more than a standard pub measure, so they can’t be sure how many units they are drinking.
What alcohol does to you
When you drink alcohol it passes directly into the blood stream – through the walls of your stomach and intestines – and circulates rapidly.
Alcohol is a sedative drug and acts on the parts of your brain that control judgement and perception, slowing them down. This reduces inhibitions, making you more likely to say and do things you wouldn’t normally do. If you are shy or nervous this can seem helpful on difficult social occasions. But even small quantities of alcohol can impair your judgement.
Mixing alcohol with medication
It is important to follow the directions of the doctor or chemist when using medication of any kind as the combination of alcohol with some medications can be serious.
Mixing alcohol with other drugs
Drinking and using other substances like cannabis and cocaine can exaggerate the effects of both the alcohol and the drug. It is always best not to mix drugs and alcohol and some combinations are highly dangerous. Talk to a worker for more information or call us.
Sobering up takes time
Alcohol is removed from your body by your liver, which burns it up at a regular rate of approximately one unit of alcohol in an hour. This is more or less the same for everybody and no amount of black coffee or fresh air will burn the alcohol up faster.
With excessive drinking, the liver eventually becomes fatty, then scarred. The stomach, heart, circulation and brain can also be seriously harmed by alcohol.
The long-term effects
One of the most important things you need to know about alcohol is that you can develop a tolerance to its effects. This means that, like many other drugs used over a period of time, you need more to achieve the same effect.
This explains why some people seem to be able to drink so much before getting drunk and others get drunk more quickly. Body weight affects this to a degree, but by far the most important element is the amount someone has drunk in the past. Tolerance can decrease suddenly if the body becomes too damaged to cope with alcohol at previous levels.
What to watch for when you stop drinking?
Because alcohol is a highly toxic and addictive drug, heavy drinkers who stop drinking may experience withdrawal symptoms. These may range from irritability or sleeplessness to hallucinations and withdrawal fits. If you experience these types of symptoms you should get urgent medical help.
Alcohol – keeping you and your mates safe
If a friend has got really drunk and has passed out or is lying on the pavement, do not attempt to get them up and walk them around. They are likely to fall over.
If you are at a party and a friend has passed out in the corner, or on a bed, do not just leave them to sleep it off. Sometimes people can be sick whilst unconscious, because of alcohol, and can choke on their own vomit. If you can’t wake them up, put them in the recovery position first (lying on their side) and then call an adult for some help. If you are really worried, ring an ambulance. You could be saving their life, not getting them into trouble.
If you have started to drink alcohol, please read the suggestions below that can help reduce the risks and even help you stop.
Change what you drink
Be aware of how much you are drinking, slow down and don’t be influenced by others! Try low and non-alcoholic wines and beers, or alternate soft drinks with alcoholic drinks.
Eat when you drink
The effect of alcohol is lessened by food, so it’s a good idea to eat when you are drinking. It’s also a good idea to eat before you go out, so that you don’t drink on an empty stomach.
Time your drinking
You may find that you drink too fast. It’s worth setting yourself time limits – for instance, you could decide that you will drink only one drink per hour. Sip it slowly – don’t gulp. Or you could leave a gap – say 20 minutes – between each drink.
Dilute your drinks
Drinking neat alcohol can be really dangerous as it damages your gut.
Know what you are drinking
If you are drinking with friends in the park out of bottles, make sure you know what’s been put in it. Some drinks really vary in strength. There is a big difference between half a pint of lager and half a pint of vodka!
The other thing to remember is that sometimes your mates might spike your drink – tell them not to, and keep an eye on your drink.
Think about who you drink with and where you drink
Some people find that certain situations, or certain people, make them drink more. Think about your own consumption – are there some people or places you should avoid? Never drink alone or with people you don’t know – make sure you have friends nearby.
Drinking in parks or by the railway line can seem like a good idea, but might be risky once you are out of it.
If you find you are drinking because you are sad or angry talking to someone can help. Get in touch, or talk to your worker.
This video may help you to decide if you need help: Alcohol and Me, a Message for Young People
Make a note of every alcoholic drink you have during the week – where and when did you drink and who with. You may see some unexpected patterns emerging and realise that it’s time to stop. Use your phone or a diary.
Unit calculator (drinkaware.co.uk)
The government advises that people should not regularly drink more than the daily unit guidelines of 3-4 units of alcohol for men (equivalent to a pint and a half of 4% beer) and 2-3 units of alcohol for women (equivalent to a 175 ml glass of wine). These guidelines are for adults and there are no safe limits identified for young people.
Benefits of stopping and cutting down
The immediate effects include:
- feeling better in the mornings
- being less tired during the day
- your skin may start to look better
- you’ll start to feel fitter
- you may stop gaining weight
Long-term benefits include:
There’s a strong link between heavy drinking and depression, and hangovers often make you feel anxious and low. If you already feel anxious or sad, drinking can make this worse, so cutting down may put you in a better mood generally.
Drinking can affect your sleep. Although it can help some people fall asleep quickly, it can disrupt your sleep patterns and stop you from sleeping deeply. So cutting down on alcohol should help you feel more rested when you wake up.
Drinking can affect your judgment and behaviour. You may behave irrationally or aggressively when you’re drunk. Drinking also means you lose your inhibitions, which means that you might engage in risky behaviours, including having unprotected sex with someone you don’t know very well. Memory loss can be a problem during drinking and in the long-term for regular heavy drinkers.
Long-term heavy drinking can lead to your heart becoming enlarged. This is a serious condition that can’t be completely reversed, but stopping drinking can stop it getting worse.
Regular drinking can affect your immune system. Heavy drinkers tend to catch more infectious diseases.
If you think you may be a dependent drinker and you need a drink every day to feel normal, then you should talk to a doctor or contact us, as it can be dangerous just to quit drinking suddenly.