Nutritional Health For All

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Alcohol Awareness

Alcohol consumption is a growing health concern in Ireland. Drinking too much alcohol has been linked to many health conditions including liver damage, high blood pressure and obesity.

  • Do you worry about how much alcohol you drink?
  • Are you aware how many standard drinks you consume per week?
  • What do we mean when we say a standard drink?

This information is designed to help you make informed choices when it comes to drinking alcohol.

How do we know what one standard drink is?

One standard drink contains 10g of pure alcohol.

However, alcohol is not the only ingredient in an alcoholic drink. So, when other ingredients such as sugar, wheat/barley or grapes are added to different forms of alcoholic beverages it means they will each have a different level of alcohol in them. This is known as the % alcohol by volume (ABV). For example a wine may have 13-14% ABV, beer 4-6% or spirits up to 40% ABV.

 

1 standard drink is equal to

 

Half a pint of lager

Standard pub measure spirit

Small glass of wine (125ml)

 But it’s not that easy, many common servings of drinks contain more than one standard drink for example:

Drink serving:

Standard drinks:

Pint Lager/stout (568mls)

2

Pint Cider

2.3

Quarter bottle wine

2

Full bottle of wine

8

Alco pop

1.2

Pub measure  spirit

1

Half pint lager

1

There are also many beers, wines and spirits with different alcohol strengths, they may have a higher alcohol content than standard drinks and therefore contain more alcohol per standard serving. The % ABV is the total amount of alcohol in 1 Litre of that drink.

So how much alcohol is too much?

Irish recommendations suggest the following limits to be at 'low risk' of developing alcohol-related illness:

  • Adult men should drink less than 17 standard drinks per week
  • Adult women should drink less than 11 standard drinks per week
  • Children should not consume alcohol
  • Don’t drink more than 5 standard drinks of alcohol in one sitting
  • Include at least 2 alcohol free days per week.

Harmful Effects of Alcohol

You may now realise that you have been drinking more alcohol than you thought. People who regularly drink more than the recommended “low risk” level of alcohol can have many side effects including low energy, stress, depression, impotence, high blood pressure, memory loss, risk of injury. Consuming significantly more alcohol than the recommendations can lead to:

  • Increased risk of developing long-term health conditions such as liver disease, certain cancers and high blood pressure
  • Greater than 3 times increased risk of developing mouth cancer
  • Three times increased  chance of suffering a stroke
  • Heavy drinking can also have negative effects on mental and emotional health.

Alcohol affects weight and fertility

As well as the damaging health effects of alcohol, most alcoholic beverages contain a lot of calories. One standard drink contains 70kcals. Other ingredients in alcoholic drinks also contribute significantly to calories such as sugar (mixers), cream, soft drinks or fruit juices. Alcoholic drinks have very little other nutrients and so are said to provide “empty calories” which may contribute to increased body weight and obesity. 

Drinking alcohol is not advised if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Drinking too much alcohol can reduce your chances of conceiving, may damage the development of the unborn baby and could even lead to miscarriage. If you do decide to drink alcohol, avoid it during the first 3 months of pregnancy and limit intake to no more than 2 standard drinks once or twice per week.

If you are breastfeeding, drinking 1-2 standard drinks of per week may be ok but more than this is not advised as alcohol can travel from the mothers system to the baby in small amounts through breast milk. Avoid drinking alcohol just before a feed.

Reducing your drinking - positive steps

If you would like to reduce the amount of alcohol you are drinking try some of these tips:

  • Decide how much you plan to drink at the start of the day/evening and stick to it. It might help to limit how much money you bring out or to tell people you are making this effort so that they can support you
  • Avoid drinking if you are feeling angry, sad, upset or confused as it is more likely to make you feel worse
  • Go out later in the evening so you don’t start drinking too early
  • If you are drinking at home use a small glass for beer/wine or buy a spirit measure so you can keep track of what you are consuming
  • Always eat before you drink so your body absorbs alcohol slower and alternate between water/non-alcoholic drinks and alcoholic drinks throughout the night
  • Don’t drink alcohol if you are thirsty. Avoid salty snacks such as nuts or crisps as they will make you thirstier and are also high in fat
  • Drink slowly and avoid situations that lead to drinking fast such as drinking games or rounds
  • Choose smaller servings – a half pint, small can, small glass of wine or single measure of spirits
  • Switch high sugar high calorie mixers for low calorie alternatives such as sugar free or diet soft drinks and low calorie soda water

For further information on alcohol guidelines please consult the following websites:

www.drugs.ie, www.hse.ie, www.drinkaware.ie, http://www.yourmentalhealth.ie/

 

Created by Catherine Shortall, on behalf of the Cardiology Interest Group, October 2013.

Review date: October 2015

© 2013 Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute, INDI. All rights reserved. May be reproduced in its entirety provided source is acknowledged. This information is not meant to replace advice from your medical doctor or individual counselling with a dietitian/clinical nutritionist. It is intended for educational and informational purposes only.

 

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