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Low Risk

Drinking small amounts of alcohol can be a pleasant social activity for many people major consequences, small quantities of alcohol can reduce the risk of heart disease for older people if it does not interfere with any medication also being taken., but this is not the case for everyone. Levels of alcohol intake are crucial to monitor for general well being.

One unit of alcohol contains about 10g of alcohol and is equivalent to:

1 bottle (250ml) of ordinary strength beer (4 – 5 % alcohol)
1 glass (100ml) of wine
1 small glass of vodka (25mg of vodka)

But beware as drinks served at home often contain more!

If you drink up to two units a day of alcohol there is little chance of any risk to health. However drinking more than two units a day increases risk to your health.

Furthermore, four units in any one day increases risk of injury and accidents as well as an increasing risk to your health, with accidents often very rarely seen or considered as a side effect of alcohol consumption.
High Risk

As the quantity we drink and the number of times we drink increases, then as such, so do the risks associated.

Raised blood pressure – increases the risk of Stroke; stomach disorders; depression, emotional disorders; cancers -mouth, throat and gullet; hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver; accidents at home, or work or on the roads; and finally an increased risk of suicide is also associated to high levels and chronic alcohol use.

The risks to others:

Violence, accidents (perhaps influenced by yourself); less to spend on food; poor role model for children; increased risk of divorce. In pregnancy – alcohol developmental damage to the unborn baby due to drinking alcohol.

Alcohol Effects Nearly Every Organ in the Body

Drinking too much alcohol on any one single occasion or over prolonged over time  can take a serious toll on your health.


Alcohol affects the body in a multitude of ways:

Alcohol interferes with the brain’s neurological pathways, affecting the way the brain works, disruptions change mood and then also change a persons behavior, the ability to think clearly and move in a coordinated manner suffer with relatively low levels of alcohol in the blood stream. On a day to day basis functioning and thinking become clouded by alcohol.

Drinking over a long period of time  can damage the heart, causing many problems including:

  • Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle
  • Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure

Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver as it is the organ with the greatest role in cleansing the blood, and can lead to a variety of problems as the organ becomes damaged by alcohol The liver is a very resilient organ but continued drinking will cause:

  • Steatosis, or fatty liver
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Cirrhosis

Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to its demise and damage – the condition of pancreatitis is a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that causes issues with digestion.

Drinking too much alcohol is associated to a increase  of developing certain cancers, with a multitude of vulnerable areas inluding:

  • Mouth
  • Esophagus
  • Throat
  • Liver
  • Breast

Immune System:
Heavy alcohol consumption can  weaken the immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease.  Chronic drinking is associated with diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis and drinking a lot on a single occasion slows the body’s ability to ward off infection.

Alcohol Can Increase Anxiety and Cause Depression

Unfortunately reaching for a drink won’t always have the effect you’re after as it is often not recognised that alcohol is a depressant, and it is this quality which in small doses acts like a relaxant.
A glass of wine after a hard day of work may well  help with the process of relaxation, if quantities increase or stay relatively high feelings of depression, anxiety and stress may become harder to deal with. This is due to  interference with neurotransmitters in the brain that are needed for good mental health, cognitive functioning, problem solving and emotional regulation.

Alcohol works on the brain in a neurochemical manner which suppresses cognitive functioning – our ability to think. In doing so we narrow our perception and our judgement and therefore don’t always respond to all the cues around us or review information in a realistic and meaningful way. In short our sense become blunt.  If someone is prone to anxiety say and notices something that could be interpreted as threatening in their environment, they may hone in on that one point of interest and miss the other less threatening or neutral information – the surrounding context of a situation/environment.  For example, we might focus on our partner talking to someone we’re jealous of, rather than notice all the other people they’ve been chatting to that evening – this is not as unusual as it might sound and overtime can have a profound affect on relationships and friendships. It is no surprise that police call outs to domestic situations are generally highly correlated to alcohol use.

Alcohol depression = a vicious cycle

As alcohol is a depressant, if someone drinks heavily and regularly they are likely to develop some symptoms of depression, as brain chemistry becomes dependent and adjusted by the constant or regular affect of alcohol in the blood. Regular drinking lowers the levels of serotonin in your brain which resultantly lowers general mood. Serotonin is responsible  for regulation of mood and is the key neurotransmitter associated with modern anti depressant medication.

In Britain, people who experience anxiety or depression are twice as likely to be heavy drinkers, so there is a very strong association between mental health and alcohol misuse. For some people, the anxiety or depression came first and alcohol was a remedy to try and relieve it. For others, drinking may have been a well established indulgence and depression arose as a side effect over many years. The common theme being the relationship and association of alcohol with depression, low mood and functioning.

Drinking heavily can also affect your relationships with your family, friends or partner, for the reasons given above, or due to depression and behavior associated with alcohol.  It can impact on your performance at work as well, and in combination can then quite easily lead to depression with a confusion of what is causing what, or how to untangle the many issues involved. Further, when there are complications of a mental health component and a substance misuse issue also present it may point in the direction of a dual diagnosis prognosis that requires a dual action of focus  on both aspects that are affecting a persons functioning. This is a specialised and necessary requirement in many cases of presentation involving the misuse of substances and/or alcohol.

If you are in the habit of using drink to try and improve your mood or mask your depression, you may be starting a vicious cycle….. a cycle which can be difficult to stop without proper intervention from a trained professional. Unchecked anxiety or persistent low mood can create the reliance on alcohol consumption and as a result need to be addressed appropriately to bring about change.

Warning signs that alcohol is affecting your mood include:

The Statistics

  • Over 9 million people in England drink more than the recommended daily limits
  • UK (2014) – 8,697 alcohol-related deaths
  • Alcohol is 10% of the UK burden of disease and death per anum
  • 7.5 million people are unaware of the damage caused by their drinking
  • Alcohol related harm costs England around £21bn per year:  £3.5bn to the NHS, £11bn tackling alcohol-related crime, £7.3bn from lost work and productivity
  • Selling alcohol for no less than 50p a unit would tackle health inequalities, reduce alcohol related crime, hospital admissions, lost productivity and save lives.
  • Alcohol was 61% more affordable in 2013 than it was in 1980

Alcohol and Health

  • Alcohol is a significant causal factor in over 60 medical conditions, including: mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast cancers; high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver; and depression
  • In the UK in 2012-13, there were 1,008,850 hospital admissions related to alcohol consumption
  • If you include deaths where alcohol was a contributing factor (such as various cancers, falls and hypertensive diseases), the figure increases to 21,512.
  • Males accounted for approximately 65% of all alcohol-related deaths in 2014 (UK)
  • Alcohol now costs the NHS £3.5bn per year; equal to £120 for every tax payer
  • In England and Wales, 63% of all alcohol-related deaths in 2012 were caused by alcoholic liver disease
  • Liver disease deaths have reached record levels, rising by 20% in a decade


  • In the UK, estimates that around 9% of adult men and 4% of adult women show signs of alcohol dependence (NHS Figures)
  • 1% of dependent drinkers access treatment
  • 178,247 prescriptions for drugs to treat alcohol dependency were prescribed (NHS, 2012)
  • 80,929 people started new alcohol treatment in England in 2013-2014
  • 59% of those exiting treatment in 2012-13 were no longer dependent on alcohol (had completed treatment successfully). A further 5,914 (8%) were transferred for further treatment within the community, while 1027 (1%) were transferred into appropriate treatment while in custody
  • For every £1 invested in specialist alcohol treatment, £5 is saved on health, welfare and crime costs


  • Alcohol-related crime  costs between £8bn and £13bn per year
  • A 29% of all violent incidents in took place in or around a pub or club. (2013/14)  This rises to 42% for stranger violence. 68% of violent offences occur in the evening or at night
  • 8,270 casualties of drink driving accidents in 2013, including 240 fatalities and 1,100 people who suffered serious injury
  • Victims believed the offender(s) to be under the influence of alcohol in 53% of all violent incidents, or 704,000 offences



The above statistics on drinking behaviour are all taken from the General Lifestyle Survey, 2011 and relate to Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland).