Drinking alcohol in moderation can be enjoyable for many people, but drinking excessively or 'binge drinking' can have a harmful effect and can lead to serious health problems.

The NHS recommends:

  • not regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week
  • if you drink as much as 14 units a week, it's best to spread this evenly over three or more days
  • if you're trying to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, it's a good idea to have several alcohol-free days each week

Regular or frequent drinking means drinking alcohol most weeks. The risk to your health is increased by drinking any amount of alcohol on a regular basis. A unit of alcohol is 10ml of pure alcohol.

Calculate the number of units you drink by using our interactive calculator

Keep a record of your alcohol intake: Download Alchol Diary sheet
The benefits of drinking less alcohol –

  • You will reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer
  • You are less likely to have an accident
  • You are less likely to engage in any risky behaviour for example unprotected sex
  • Your liver is able to recover and repair damage
  • You will save money
  • Your energy levels will increase
  • You will sleep better and feel more rested/refreshed when you wake
  • You will be able to concentrate better
  • You are less likely to upset family and friends
  • You are less likely to suffer from alcohol related depression

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is defined as drinking eight or more units of alcohol in one session for men and six units in one session for women.  Studies reveal that drinking a large amount of alcohol over a short period of time may be significantly worse for your health than frequently drinking small quantities.

Short-term effects

Alcohol affects your physical coordination, causing slurring of speech, blurring or double vision and loss of balance.  You are more likely to find yourself in dangerous situations if you have been drinking a lot, as alcohol affects your judgment and you may do things you would not consider doing when sober.

Other high risk behaviour associated with heavy alcohol consumption is:

  • Casual and unprotected sex, which can lead to unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections
  • Violence and arguments
  • Accidents at home and on the road

Long-term effects

Health risks associated with heavy drinking include:

Social problems related to heavy alcohol intake include:

  • Divorce
  • Domestic violence
  • Child abuse
  • Workplace problems
  • Financial problems
  • Homelessness
  • Crime

Drinking & Pregnancy

Advice from the Department of Health is that you should not drink at all if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.  If you drink heavily you have an increased risk of miscarriage, and it may cause serious harm to the baby's growth and brain development.

Your alcohol intake

If you answer ‘Yes’ to two or more of the following questions, you should think about reducing your alcohol intake:

  • Have you ever thought you should cut down on your drinking?
  • Have other people ever annoyed you by commenting on your drinking?
  • Do you ever feel guilty about the amount of alcohol you are drinking?
  • Have you ever taken a drink in the morning to relieve the symptoms of alcohol (commonly known as hair of the dog)?

If you answer ‘Yes’ to three or more of the following questions, you should consider seeking help from your GP who will be able to refer you to a specialist:

  • If you are a man, are you drinking more than 50 units of alcohol a week?
  • If you are a woman, are you drinking more than 35 units a week?
  • Do you have a strong desire or need to drink alcohol?
  • Do you have difficulty resisting the urge to drink, stopping drinking, or controlling the amount you drink?
  • Does your behaviour change or do you feel differently if you can’t get a drink?
  • Do you drink to relieve or prevent those feelings?
  • Do you seem to be able to drink more alcohol than most other people around you?
  • Does the desire to drink or the effects of alcohol stop you taking part in your other interests and pleasures?
  • Do you still drink, despite knowing about the harmful consequences?

Getting Help

If your drinking has become a concern or if you are worried about a family member or friend, then you can get help and advice by calling Drinkline on 0800 917 8282.

You can also search our Health Wellbeing & Support Directory for groups in your area who support those who have concerns about their alcohol consumption.