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 drinking more than the recommended daily limits risks damaging your health.
There's no guaranteed safe level of drinking, but if you drink less than the 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 more than the 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.
Drinkers can be divided into three risk categories:
To be a lower-risk drinker, the NHS recommends that:
- Men should not regularly drink more than 3 to 4 units a day.
Women should not regularly drink more than 2 to 3 units a day.
Even drinking less than this is not advisable in some circumstances. Drinking any alcohol can still be too much if you’re going to drive, operate machinery, swim or do 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're pregnant and choose to drink, do not drink more than 1 to 2 units of alcohol once or twice a week, and do not get drunk. This will minimise the 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:
regularly drinking more than 3 to 4 units a day if you're a man
regularly drinking more than 2 to 3 units a day if you're a woman
If you're drinking at around these levels, your risk of developing a serious illness is higher than non-drinkers:
Men are 1.8 to 2.5 times as likely to get cancer of the mouth, neck and throat, and women are 1.2 to 1.7 times as likely.
Women are 1.2 times as likely to get breast cancer.
Men are twice as likely to develop liver cirrhosis, and women are 1.7 times as likely.
Men are 1.8 times as likely to develop high blood pressure, and women are 1.3 times as likely.
If you're an increasing-risk drinker and you drink substantially more than the lower-risk limits, your risks will be even higher than those above.
Visit NHS Choices
to find out more on how you can cut back on drink.