In England in 2018, 82% of adults had drunk alcohol in the past year, and 49% of the same adults said they drank at least once a week. Most of us enjoy a glass of wine or a pint a few days a week, but it’s important to monitor how much we drink and why we find ourselves drinking.
If you’re a millennial or younger, you may be in the habit of binge-drinking once a week or once a fortnight. If you’re over 35, you likely prefer drinking a little daily or a few days a week over large binges – which leads us to ask the question, is one better than the other? Which is better for our overall health? Let’s take a closer look at the best and safest ways to enjoy alcohol.
How much alcohol are we allowed to have a day?
The UK Chief Medical Officers recommend that all adults should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol each week. This equals about 6 pints of average-strength beer each week and has changed since 2015. The previous guidelines up to that point had recommended no more than 21 weekly units for men and 14 units for women.
What is binge drinking?
Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings someone’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 g/dl or above. This generally occurs when men consume five drinks or more, and women consume four drinks or more in two hours. Binge drinking is most common among people aged 18–34 years, but over 50% of those binge drinks are consumed by people aged 35 and above. Binge drinking is doubly common among men than women and is more common among those with a higher income.
What are the health risks of daily drinking?
If you enjoy one or two glasses a couple of times a week, your health risks are going to be extremely low. However, if you find it difficult to relax in the evening without a couple of glasses, pints, or half a bottle of wine, then you’re seriously putting your healthy future at risk. Here are some of the risks of excessive daily drinking:
One of the most pointed issues with regular drinking is damage to the liver. The liver helps break down dangerous substances from the body, including alcohol. Long-term alcohol use hinders this process, increasing your risk of liver disease and chronic liver inflammation. As the liver becomes weaker and more damaged, it becomes harder for it to remove harmful substances from the system.
More Likely to Injure Ourselves
Daily drinking also affects the body’s central nervous system. This shows itself clearly in the form of slurred speech, as alcohol interferes with communication between the brain and the body. When we’ve drunk too much, coordination becomes difficult and we may find it difficult to balance or even experience numbness or tingling in our hands and feet.
Difficulty Performing in Bed
Excessive alcohol intake can also affect your reproductive and sexual health. Men who drink in excess are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction, hindered sex hormone production, and lower libido.
More Likely to Get Sick
Drinking also seriously affects the natural immune system, making it harder for the body to ward off viruses and illnesses. Those who drink heavily over a long period are also at a higher risk of developing tuberculosis or pneumonia than the rest of the population. Around 10% of all global tuberculosis cases are connected to excessive alcohol consumption.
May Experience Neurological Difficulties
As well as the clear physical risks, drinking also poses neurological risks. Alcohol hinders the brain’s ability to think clearly, create long-term memories, and make rational choices. Over time, too much alcohol can cause frontal lobe damage, affecting short-term memory, emotional control, and judgment.
What are the health risks of binge drinking?
If your binge drinking looks like going out for 5+ drinks every Friday and Saturday night, then you will be subjecting your body to a lot of stress. Alcohol is a toxin, so if we drink it in excess, we will experience long-term damage as covered above, as well as short-term issues, as covered below. If you drink in excess, you may experience:
Extremely Impaired Neurological Function
The image of a drunk person wobbling about has long been a funny image in movies and sitcoms, but the reality is when we drink in extreme excess in one go, we often act like an entirely different person, make different decisions, and find it more difficult to think and act rationally. In extreme cases, you may make a decision that has a drastic impact on your life and the life of others, or blackout and be unable to remember what happened to you.
If you’re reading this from here in the UK, then you’ll be familiar with the term “paralytic.” It means that you’re so drunk you no longer have any control, and in most cases, need to go to hospital to get your stomach pumped to avoid brain damage, coma, and even death. The term paralytic is not a medical one, and signs of alcohol poisoning include:
- Slurred speech
- Confusion and irrational actions
- Loss of coordination
- Irregular breathing
There are serious health risks associated with binge drinking, whether it’s a weekly occurrence for you, or you do it once a year.
Which is worse for your health: binge drinking or daily drinking?
The consensus is that people should avoid ‘saving up’ their 14 units for one day of heavy drinking but to spread them over three days or more. Those who drink heavily once or twice a week have a higher risk of death from accidents, injuries, and long-term health problems.
Don’t forget, however, that exceeding that weekly limit will put your health at risk, whether you spread it out over 3 days or 7.
What is the healthiest type of alcohol to drink?
While no alcohol is inherently “healthy”, certain alcoholic beverages pose fewer health risks than others. For example, dry wines are generally fairly low in calories as most of the sugar in the grape has been turned into alcohol during the fermentation process. The number of calories and amount of sugar depends on the sweetness of the grape in your chosen wine, but it’s generally a fairly good choice. Red wine contains antioxidants known as polyphenols which may also help reduce the risk of coronary artery disease and heart attacks.
When it comes to preventing a hangover, the best thing is to stick with one drink and avoid overly sugary beverages. Vodka sodas, mojitos, bloody Marys, and Palomas are all good choices if you fancy a cocktail without all the excessive sugar (and inevitable bloating and headache the next day!).
If you can, choose to drink spirits with a low-sugar mixer over beers, wines, and cocktails, and you’ll consume fewer calories. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water while you drink and before you go to bed to avoid a hangover, which is largely caused by dehydration.
Will drinking affect my life insurance premium?
Yes, especially if you’ve developed health conditions associated with heavy drinking. Obviously, being sober (drinking no alcohol) will have a good effect, but provided you drink responsibly and within the recommended limits, your life insurance premium will not be greatly affected.
It’s key to remember that your life insurance premium will go up if you drink excessively not because your life insurance company wants to charge you more money, but because you’re at greater risk of developing health problems. The best thing you can do for your health—and your wallet—is to drink responsibly and look after your health. Ready to start putting yourself first in your life? Read 13 Reasons to Exercise (Even if You Don’t Want To) next!