How much should I drink this Christmas?

How to manage your alcohol during the festive period?

Whatever your tipple of choice, many of us enjoy a drink, especially as we approach the Christmas season. Spirits are often high, work parties in full swing, and the lure of a warm mulled wine, or a pint of our favourite beer can fill us with joy and comfort. For most, alcohol can be included as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle, but how much is too much, and what affect can alcohol have on our physical and mental health?

November marks Alcohol Awareness Week 2022, and this is a great opportunity to think about our habits as we approach the festive season. Our health and wellbeing associate, Kathryn, shares some top tips for responsible drinking.

Alcohol and Health

It is no surprise that alcohol can have a big impact on both our physical and mental wellbeing. Over time, excessive drinking can increase our risk of developing certain cancers and diseases. These include:

  • Risk of stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Mouth, throat and breast cancer
  • Damage to the brain and nervous system

The short-term effects can also be unpleasant; poor quality sleep, fluctuating moods and lower nutritional awareness, all of which can make us feel far from our best. The mild dehydration we experience after drinking can cause fatigue, nausea and headaches – this is called a hangover!

We also see a strong link between alcohol and mental health. Research has shown that those who drink have an increased chance of developing mental health problems, and those with mental health problems are more likely to drink (Mental Health Foundation). In the moment, alcohol can help us to feel relaxed, confident and more at ease. However, this feeling does wear off and can trigger a cycle of dependency. Long term affects on mental health can include depression, anxiety, psychosis and suicide.

It is also important to talk about ‘single session’ or ‘binge’ drinking as we often see a rise in this type of behaviour around Christmas. Drinking too much, in a short amount of time can increase our risk of accidents and injury. Alcohol can also lower our inhibitions, making us more likely to engage in dangerous or risky situations.

Finally, excessive alcohol can impact on other aspects of our lives including employment, relationships, financial difficulties and housing.

Top Tips this Christmas:

We don’t need to look at going completely t-total, however there are ways you can reduce your drinking, and enjoy a happy and healthy Christmas!

Get to know your units: Do you really know how many units you are consuming? This can be especially difficult with ‘home measures’. Get to how many units are in your drink of choice, you can then take steps to reduce this if necessary.

Explore alcohol free options: Whether that’s activities, or drinks, there are an increasing number of alcohol-free options out there. Explore your local area and suggest activities to your friends and family which are not centred around alcohol. No and low alcohol drinks are also readily available in all supermarkets and pubs, get experimental and do some tasting, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Keep a track: If you are worried about your alcohol consumption as Christmas approaches, keep a drink journal and get to know your habits and triggers. Record when you drink, why you drink and how this makes you feel. You could gain some insights into the underlying reasons for drinking, and it will help you to gain some awareness and perspective. There are lots of apps out there which can help you with this.

Spread your drinks: Rather than consuming large amounts of alcohol in one go, spread your drinks over a few days. That being said, keeping a few days alcohol free, can also be a great way to reduce overall consumption.

Get support: Cutting down on drinking can be difficult when people around you are indulging. Tell your friends, family and colleagues that you are trying to reduce alcohol and that you would appreciate their support. You may even be able to get them on board too.

Pace yourself: When drinking, alternate your alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic options. Not only will this slow down and limit your drinking, but it will help keep you hydrated too.

Reach out for help: Finally, but most importantly. If you do feel like you are dependant on alcohol, or struggle with your relationship with alcohol, please do reach out for support. Whether this is to a trusted friend or family member, a support organisation, or your GP, this can make all the difference.

Current Guidelines

The current guidelines from the Chief Medical Officer, are that we should consume no more than 14 units per week as this is deemed a ‘low risk’ drinking level. To put that into more practical terms, we are talking around six standard glasses of wine or six pints of average strength beer. This advice is the same for men and women, and we should aim to spread this across the week, whilst having some alcohol-free days.

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