Researchers Set a Standard Level of Alcohol
Substance use disorders are the major public health problem facing many countries. In the United States today, more than 15 million Americans are estimated to suffer from alcoholism. "The most common substance of abuse/dependence in patients presenting for treatment is alcohol.In the United Kingdom, the number of 'dependent drinkers' was calculated as over 2.8 million in 2001. It is not possible to estimate the total number of alcohol dependants in [the Republic of] Ireland, but one source suggests that as many as 95,000 of the estimated 1.9 million drinkers will go on to develop a problem with alcohol.
Alcoholism is the consumption of, or preoccupation with, alcoholic beverages to the extent that this behavior interferes with the drinker's normal personal, family, social, or work life, and may lead to physical or mental harm. The resulting chronic use can result in many psychological and physiological disorders. Alcoholism is one of the world's most costly drug use problems; with the exception of nicotine addiction, alcoholism is more costly to most countries than all other drug use problems combined.One of several other factors must exist for alcohol use to develop into alcoholism.
National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia developed alcohol guidelines, which are based on the concept of a standard drink.
According to the Australian Alcohol Guidelines, one standard drink contains 10 grams of pure alcohol. Examples of a standard drink include:
- one glass of mixed drink (30ml spirits and mixer)
- one pot (285ml) regular beer
- small glass (100ml) table wine
To minimise risks to your health, both in the short and long term:
- No more than 4 standard drinks a day on average and no more than 6 standard drinks on any one day*
- One or two alcohol-free days per week.
- No more than 2 standard drinks a day on average and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day*
- One or two alcohol-free days per week.
- These drinks should be spread over several hours.
For example, men should have no more than 2 standard drinks in the first hour and 1 per hour after that. Women should have no more than 1 standard drink per hour.
Safe levels of drinking alcohol:
As outlined above, the National Health and Medical Research Council developed the Australian Alcohol Guidelines, which provide an indication of recommended low risk drinking levels.
While it is important to be aware of these guidelines, it is also important to remember that alcohol effects all people differently and often this effect will depend on who you are, what you are drinking and what you are doing whilst drinking.
Dangers of consuming alcohol at harmful levels – short term and long term:
There are many dangers associated with consuming alcohol at levels that are considered hazardous to one’s health, and while most of them are physical there are also physiological consequences. Some of the short-term effects of drinking to excess include hangovers, headaches, possible vomiting and nausea. Drinking to excess can also expose people to dangerous situations, such as risk of injury or unplanned sexual activity.
A serious short-term effect of consuming alcohol at harmful levels is possible alcohol poisoning, which takes place when there is so much alcohol in the body that it causes the collapse of the autonomic nervous system. This can lead to brain damage, coma or even death.
A possible long-term effect of drinking to excess on a regular basis is becoming dependent upon alcohol, which takes place when the body becomes accustomed to functioning with alcohol present. After time, it can damage parts of the body including the liver and brain. functioning with alcohol present.
After time, it can damage parts of the body including the liver and brain.
Reduce the harm of alcohol when you drink:
There are a number of things that people can do to reduce risky alcohol consumption, including:
- know the standard – know how much alcohol is in what drink so you are aware of the amount of alcohol you are consuming and therefore know when you have had enough
- thirsty? – alcohol does not quench your thirst but in fact makes you more dehydrated. If you are thirsty drink water as this will help prevent dehydration
- drink slowly – take sips and not gulps. Put your glass down between sips
- eat before or while you are drinking
- One drink at a time – do not let people top up your drinks
- pace yourself – try having a ‘spacer’, a non-alcoholic drink every second or third drink
- stay busy – play pool or dance – don’t just sit and drink
- be assertive – do not be pressured into drinking more than you want or intend to.
Alcohol affect women differently from men:
Women are affected by alcohol differently to men, as they are more sensitive to alcohol. This has to do with a number of factors, such as:
- women, on average, are smaller than men so an equivalent level of alcohol will produce a higher concentration in women’s bodies;
- women, on average, carry more fat than men. As body fat contains little water, women have less body water to dilute the alcohol leaving a higher concentration of alcohol in women’s bodies; and
- women’s hormone levels will have an influence on how they are affected by alcohol. For example, when a woman’s estrogen levels are high, the intoxicating effects of alcohol will set in faster.
Cure for hangovers:
People suffer from hangovers the day after a heavy episode of drinking alcohol due to the brain having been deprived of water and glucose. Unfortunately, there is no real cure for a hangover other than time so the best thing to do is drink fluids, especially water to re-hydrate the body and to rest.
Quick and easy ways to sober up:
There is no quick and easy way to sober up. Many people believe that vomiting, drinking coffee or even having a shower will help people sober up. In reality, the only effective thing that will sober someone up is time. While doing those things outlined may make someone feel better, they will not help someone sober up any quicker. This is important to remember when undertaking potentially risky activities, such as driving or operating heavy machinery.
Family history influence their drinking habits:
There is evidence to suggest that people with a family history of alcohol-related problems, including alcohol dependence are at a greater risk of being unable to control their drinking habits compared to the rest of the population.
The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia developed a drinking guideline for people with a relative who has, or has had, a problem with alcohol and states that such people
- should be careful about how much they drink;
- should take particular care to have regular alcohol-free days; and
- might not consider drinking at all.
Effect on pregnancy:
There are varying opinions regarding whether it is harmful for women to drink when they are pregnant. The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia developed a drinking guideline for women who are pregnant or might soon become pregnant and state that such women:
- may consider not drinking at all;
- most importantly, should never become intoxicated;
- if they choose to drink, over a week, should have less than 7 standard drinks, and on any one day, no more than 2 standard drinks (spread over at least two hours); and
- should note that the risk is highest in the earlier stages of pregnancy, including the time from conception to the first missed period.
However, as the minimum quantity of alcohol required to produce adverse foetal consequences is unknown, it may be safer for pregnant women or women thinking of becoming pregnant to abstain from alcohol.
Different effect on different people:
People react differently to alcohol. This can be due to a number of reasons which relate to the type of alcohol being consumed (amount, strength), the person drinking (sex, age, body weight, state of mind) and the environment where drinking is taking place (time of day, being alone).
Groups of people should take particular care when drinking alcohol:
There are a number of different groups of people who should take particular care when consuming alcohol, or even question whether they should consume alcohol at all. These groups include:
- people under the age of 18;
- pregnant women;
- people who have a family history of alcohol-related problems;
- people who are taking medication or are using other drugs; and
- people who suffer from medical conditions that will be affected by consuming alcohol, such as hepatitis C.
Difference between a tolerance to alcohol and a dependence on alcohol:
A tolerance to alcohol and a dependence on alcohol are very different things. When someone develops a tolerance to alcohol, it means they will have to consume more alcohol to feel the same effects that they used to have with lower amounts of alcohol. Anyone can develop a tolerance for alcohol. When someone develops a dependence on alcohol, they often feel as though they need alcohol and find it very difficult to stop or reduce drinking. Not everyone who drinks alcohol will develop a dependency to it.
BAC stands for blood alcohol concentration and refers to the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood. Factors that will generally effect a person’s BAC is how much alcohol they have drank and how quickly they have drank it. In Australia, the legal limit for drinking and driving for most people is under .05 BAC. In Victoria, L or P-plate drivers are not permitted to drive with any alcohol concentration in their blood.
If you think you have a problem with alcohol or know someone that you think may have a problem, the first step to getting help is finding someone whom you can trust and chat with, such as
- a friend or family member;
- a teacher at school;
- your local GP; and/or
- another health professional or a counselor.
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