Understanding Alcohol: Effects on Body

Alcohol is all well and good in moderation, but the effects of drinking can seriously impact your body and mental health. Understanding what alcohol does to the body and how to safely consume it as part of your lifestyle will improve your health and wellbeing.

What is Alcohol?

Alcohol has been around for centuries. Often associated with social situations and celebrations, it is created using a chemical called ethanol.

Alcohol is created through a fermentation process where the ethanol is combined with food containing natural sugars such as fruit, vegetables or grains.

This combination is placed in an environment where yeast and bacteria can grow, this growth then reacts with the natural sugars to create alcohol.

The popularity of alcohol has led to the development of many beverages including wine, beer and spirits over the years which are widely consumed in the UK.

How Does the Body React to Alcohol?

Alcohol has an immediate effect on the body, as it causes a chemical imbalance.

Alcohol molecules are small, so as soon as a drink is swallowed it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.

As the heart continuously pumps blood, the alcohol is carried throughout the body with effects happening within minutes. Alcohol is toxic, so as soon as it comes into contact with the body, it will immediately try to break it down and remove it through:

  • The liver which breaks the toxicity down into water and carbon dioxide.
  • The lungs through breath.
  • The kidneys through urine, which is why you go to the toilet frequently when drinking.

  • Sweat through glands across the body.

The liver works the hardest and can break down one standard drink in the body an hour. If alcohol is drunk faster or in higher quantities than the liver can work against it, this is when feelings of being drunk occur.

Health effects of drinking:

  • Mentally
  • Physically

Short Term

Increase in anxiety, stress and memory loss including more severe blackouts & disturbed sleep

Digestive issues including sickness, pain and diarrhoea.

Shaking, sweating and unwanted weight gain from overlooked calories

Long Term

Depression and severe anxiety. Further problems include dementia

Increased risk of cancer, stroke, heart and liver diseases. Risk of stomach ulcers, high blood pressure and fertility issues

Understanding Alcohol Content

The amount of alcohol in your drink is determined by the size of the drink you choose but more importantly the concentration of alcohol in the product.

Units were created to help people understand the amount of alcohol they were actually consuming. One unit is 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol and is equivalent to:

  • A small glass (125ml) of 9% ABV wine.
  • Half a pint of 3.5% ABV bitter or lager.
  • A single measure (25ml) of 38%-40% ABV spirits.

ABV stands for ‘alcohol by volume’. All alcoholic drinks carry this value on their labels to show the percentage of pure alcoholic content included in the container. For example, a bottle of wine that says ‘13 ABV’ or ‘13%’ on its label contains 13% alcohol.

It is recommended that both males and females consume no more than 14 units of alcohol in a week.

Understanding Units in Relation to Today

A common mistake is that many people think of ‘units’ in terms to the size of the drink, for example, a glass of wine or a shot of spirits is one unit and a pint of beer or lager is two units. However, variety means we must now check strengths to determine actual units consumed. Bear in mind:

  • A lot of lagers or ciders are now higher than 5% ABV, which is 2.8 units per pint.
  • The average pub wine is now 12% ABV and is served in a medium glass size (175ml) which is 2.1 units or a large glass size (250ml) which is 3 units – already a quarter of the weekly allowance.

Top Tips for Alcohol Reduction:

  • Alternate an alcoholic drink with a non-alcoholic one.
  • Have at least two alcohol-free days a week.
  •  Plan celebrations ahead so you can keep on top of your units for the week
  • Find other ways to relax when you are stressed.
  • Always eat a decent meal before drinking alcohol
  • Sip your drink so that it lasts longer.
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