Published May 22, 2020

Consumption of alcohol is a hot topic most of the time, but it is especially pertinent right now. In testing times, many of us are tempted to reach for a drink to aid relaxation and manage anxiety. This can be a slippery slope toward self-medication, though. There is a fine line between appropriate and excessive alcohol intake.

NHS guidelines dictate that nobody consumes more than 14 units of alcohol per week. This is not entirely helpful guidance, as alcohol is served by the can and bottle, not unit. For reference…

  • One bottle of beer with an ABV of 5% is 1.7 units
  • One small glass of wine with an ABV of 12% is 1.5 units
  • One single measure of most popular spirits is 1.4 units

Armed with this information, it is comparatively simple to work out if you are exceeding a recommended weekly intake. Just bear in mind that 14 units is the maximum recommended amount, not a challenge to achieve. When it comes to alcohol, less is frequently more.

What’s more, these intake guidelines were not drawn up with binge drinking in mind. The official terminology of binge drinking is 6 or more units of alcohol in a single session. If consuming 14 units of alcohol per week, this intake should be spread over multiple, non-consecutive days.

Now, you may – quite understandably – be wondering where the harm is in exceeding these limits a little right now. We are living in unprecedented times, and we all must do whatever it takes to get through the day. One in five people admit to upping their alcohol intake due to the current global situation. It pays to be informed about the risks, however.

First and foremost, do not lose sight of the fact that alcohol is a depressant. Exceeding the recommended 6 units of alcohol in the space of a few hours will impair the central nervous system, and by extension, the brain. Taking your mind off the news is one thing, but there may be longer-term repercussions that must be managed. You may well experience an uplift in your mood for the first few drinks, but overall, the lasting effect is far from pleasant.

Chief among these is a growing reliance upon alcohol as a coping mechanism. Eventually, society will return to something resembling ‘normal.’ The stresses and strains of everyday life will return with this, though. That includes bad days at work, children misbehaving and financial strains and concerns. You could be setting a dangerous precedent for body and mind by treating alcohol as an emotional crutch to manage difficult circumstances.

Outside of mental health considerations, alcohol will also have an impact on the lungs – the last thing that any of us need right now. The lungs rely on tiny hair particles, known as cilia, to sweep away foreign invaders. Alcohol, like smoking, impairs this ability. Drinking to excess can cause significantly compromised immunity and lung capacity in as little as six weeks. Your body may already be under threat without you even realising it.

We also need to consider the practicalities of alcohol consumption and driving. Legal restrictions surrounding blood, breath and urine alcohol levels vary throughout the UK – Scotland has slightly stricter limits than England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in line with other EU nations. As a rule of thumb, two pints of beer or two small glasses of wine would put anybody over the legal limit, with caveats surrounding weight, muscle mass and metabolism applied.

You may think that this is the last time to worry about that, as you are not able to go anywhere anyway. How would you react if you needed to take a loved one to hospital in an emergency, though? The NHS is stretched to breaking point, and there could be a long wait for an ambulance. Excessive alcohol consumption may deny you the ability to make your own way to critical care.

There are many side effects relating to alcohol, ranging from severe dehydration, to insomnia. That’s without considering the effects of a hangover, which may cause nausea, upset stomach and pounding headache. If you are going for a jolly night out and feel that you may consume too much alcohol because you are having a ‘good time’, consider at least keeping yourself hydrated. Drink water before you go out, intersperse every drink you take with the same volume of water, and have a glass of water when you get home. If nothing else, it should cure the headache. It may increase your trips to the loo, but better that than dehydration.

Alcohol numbs the brain and the senses – for sure. It can cause dizziness, fainting and passing out, let alone silly decisions when under the influence. Accidents can happen that neither your body or brain can handle. Basically, your entire body can suffer effects of excess alcohol.

More than any other time, we need to consider safe and moderate levels of alcohol intake. It is quite understandable that anybody may need a little luxury in the current social climate. Just do not allow this luxury to turn to decadence. At this point in human history, it is easy for otherwise widely accepted amounts of alcohol to be deemed too much.

Nobody wants to be a ‘party pooper’, but controlling your alcohol intake is wise.


Written by Bev Walton, BSc Nutritional Science

I achieved a First-Class Honours degree in BSc Nutritional Science, Nutrition Sciences from the University of Reading and now have over 35 years experience in all types of cuisine, dietary plans, recipe development, health and nutrition. I have been writing for over 10 years for magazines and websites as well as ghostwriting for ebooks, Kindle and fully published books. I’m also a proud member of the Guild of Food writers.

Bev Walton | University of Reading BSc Nutritional Science, Nutrition Sciences

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