Alcohol, the good, the bad and the confusing.

Alcohol is a Jekyll and Hyde character; inextricably linked with so many good events in most people’s lives. Many of the happiest times celebrated with a clink of glasses and a little (or a lot) of your favourite tipple. In contrast, how many times have you reached for an alcoholic drink due after hearing bad news, or feeling stressed? Or to numb the pain of heartache or disappointment.


With binge drinking being a way of life for some, not just students and generation Z many of us can connect our emotions and actions to booze, whether it’s feeling unhealthy, bloated, or embarrassed by aftermath – our behaviour after drinking.



Pub culture is a national pastime in the UK, with daily home consumption being the norm for many people too. The G&T before supper or the glass of wine sipped while cooking dinner, but since the guidelines on safe levels of drinking changed in 2016, many people are unaware they are regularly drinking more than the recommended amount, especially at home.


Pub culture is a national pastime in the UK, with daily home consumption being the norm for many people too. The G&T before supper or the glass of wine sipped while cooking dinner, but since the guidelines on safe levels of drinking changed in 2016, many people are unaware they are regularly drinking more than the recommended amount, especially at home.

Life is full of conflicting messages, so many of them around what is beneficial and detrimental to our wellbeing, confused? I am often, so let’s unpack this, and look at some evidence on alcohol and your health.


Key facts 

  • The active ingredient in alcohol is Ethanol, the chemical that makes us drunk.
  • It can have potent effects on mood and mental state.
  • Alcohol can reduce shyness and self-consciousness
  • It can impair judgement, resulting in remorseful behaviour, was it you with the lampshade on your head?  Hair of the dog anyone?
  • Binge drinking is defined as drinking large quantities of alcohol with the sole purpose of getting drunk quickly.
  • The liver neutralises alcohol in the body.

The good news

Scientists have linked moderate amounts to health benefits. New research led by neurologist Claudia Kawas from The University of California found that moderate drinking is linked to a longer life. Kawas examined the behaviours of 1,700 people who lived to at least 90, and reports that two glasses of wine or beer a day which is moderate drinking is linked to a longer life and an 18% drop in the risk of early death. Other benefits of low-to-moderate alcohol consumption include:

  • Moderate alcohol consumption is connected to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and it may reduce symptoms of type 2 diabetes by enhancing the uptake of blood sugar by cells.
  • Raises good HDL cholesterol in the body.
  • Decreases blood pressure.
  • Temporarily reduces stress and anxiety.

The bad news 

  • Alcohol is the most common form of drug abuse.
  • It’s addictive and highly toxic in large amounts.
  • Heavy drinkers are at risk of fatty liver disease or liver inflammation which leads to cirrhosis.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption caused adverse effects on the brain.
  • Binge drinking may cause blackouts, amnesia or memory loss.
  • Chronic alcohol intake may increase the risk of brain shrinkage or dementia in middle-age.
  • Alcohol is depressive and heavy drinking has been associated with depression in some people.
  • Its energy-rich but nutrient poor providing 7 calories per gram, which second only to eating fats.

The confusing news

Recommendations for alcohol intake are usually based on the number of “standard drinks per day”, what are they you ask? (see below) To make things more complicated, the official definition of a standard drink differs between countries. This is not helped by studies investigating the link between alcohol and weight have produced inconsistent results, some show that regularly drinking beer may cause weight gain while wine consumption may reduce weight.


UK recommendations 

The UK’s chief medical officers amended their recommendations in 2016 advising men to drink only 14 units a week the same as the maximum limit for women, and a reduction from the previous 21 units.  How much is that you ask?  14 units equal 9 small 125 ml glasses of wine, 14 single measures of spirits or 7 pints of lager or beer. The guidance also recommends having several alcohol-free days each week.



Summary 

  • Moderate alcohol consumption may increase life expectancy.
  • Red wine is probably the healthiest option, due to its high concentration of antioxidants which are linked to various health benefits.
  • In predisposed individuals, alcohol consumption can lead to dependency or alcoholism,
  • Chronic alcohol abuse can have catastrophic health effects, affecting the entire body and causing a range of health problems.
  • If you are a teetotaller eating a diet rich in blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, artichokes, kale, red cabbage, beans, beetroot, spinach, pecans and dark chocolate will give you the same antioxidants health benefits

Salute, Santé, Cheers!