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Most people who have alcohol-related health problems aren’t alcoholics. They're simply people who have regularly drunk more than the recommended levels for some years.
'Regularly' means drinking these amounts every day or most days of the week.
Regularly drinking above recommended daily limits risks damaging your health.
There's no guaranteed safe level of drinking, but if you drink below recommended daily limits, the risks of harming your health are low.
And it's certainly not only people who get drunk or binge drink who are at risk. Most people who regularly drink more than the NHS recommends don't see any harmful effects at first.
Alcohol’s hidden harms usually only emerge after a number of years. And by then, serious health problems can have developed.
Liver problems, reduced fertility, high blood pressure, increased risk of various cancers and heart attack are some of the numerous harmful effects of regularly drinking above recommended levels.
The effects of alcohol on your health will depend on how much you drink. The more you drink, the greater the health risks.
In terms of risks, drinkers can be divided into three categories:
Units are a standard way to indicate the alcohol content of any given drink.
Percentages given in brackets refer to Alcohol by Volume (ABV) of stated drink.
Lower-risk drinking means that you have a low risk of causing yourself future harm.
However, drinking consistently within these limits is called 'lower-risk', rather than 'safe', because drinking alcohol is never completely safe.
NHS recommendations for lower risk drinking state that:
Even drinking below these levels will not be advisable in some circumstances. Any drinking can still be too much if you’re driving, operating machinery, about to go swimming or engaging in strenuous physical activity.
Pregnant women or women trying to conceive should not drink alcohol. When you drink, alcohol reaches your baby through the placenta. Too much exposure to alcohol can seriously affect your baby's development.
If you choose to drink, do not drink more than 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice a week, and do not get drunk. This will minimise risk to the baby.
People who drink should aim to be in the lower-risk category to minimise the health risks.
Drinking at this level increases the risk of damaging your health. Alcohol affects all parts and systems of the body, and it can play a role in numerous medical conditions.
Increasing-risk drinking is:
If you're drinking at around these levels, your risk of developing a serious illness is higher compared to non-drinkers:
If you're an increasing-risk drinker and are drinking substantially above the lower risk limits, your risks will be even higher than those outlined above.
At these drinking levels, you might already be suffering from alcohol-related problems, such as fatigue or depression, weight gain, poor sleep and sexual problems.
Whatever your age or sex, you’re probably in worse physical shape than you would be otherwise. Also, you could easily be suffering from higher blood pressure due to your drinking.
Some people argue a lot when they’re drinking, which can negatively affect their relationships with family and friends.
If you’re in this group, you’re at an even higher risk of damaging your health compared to increasing risk drinkers.
Higher risk drinking is:
Again, alcohol affects the whole body, and it can play a role in numerous medical conditions. You’re at a much higher risk of developing alcohol-related health problems. Your body has probably suffered some damage already, even if you’re not yet aware of it.
Compared to non-drinkers, if you regularly drink above higher-risk levels:
The more you drink above the higher-risk threshold, the greater the risks, so some of the health risks can be even higher than those shown above. You’re likely to have the same problems as increasing-risk drinkers: feeling tired or depressed, or gaining extra weight.
You may be sleeping poorly or having sexual problems. And, like increasing-risk drinkers but possibly more so, you’re almost definitely in worse physical shape than you would be otherwise, whatever your age or gender. You could also suffer from high blood pressure.
At these levels, your drinking may make you argumentative, which might damage your relationships with family and friends.
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