A little of what you fancy
PUBLISHED: 18:12 14 December 2015 | UPDATED: 18:12 14 December 2015
Drink? No problem. But be sure you know when to stop, says Suffolk GP Dr Matt Piccaver
“Everything in moderation” is an old adage. Whether there is any truth in the statement is hard to prove. We’re constantly bombarded with conflicting health messages, be it about food or medications. I sometimes joke with my patients and say: “This week, statins are good”, or “sugar is bad”.
The truth is, I suspect, much more complicated. I’m often confused by what is good advice regarding health, as it seems to change so often. If a health care professional can be confused regarding what is healthy, what hope do the rest of the population have?
Alcohol is rarely out of the news. Over the past few decades we’ve been advised to drink a little alcohol every day, decrease our intake, or have a couple of days break from it every week. Just what are we to believe?
The current guidance is that women should consume no more than two to three units of alcohol a day, and men three to four. What is a unit has often confused me, as the amount of alcohol varies so much from drink to drink. A unit of alcohol is equivalent to a single measure of spirits, just under half a pint of strong beer, or about two thirds of a small glass of wine. Doesn’t sound much to many people I meet. How easy would it be to go over your daily amount without even noticing?
Many of us can use alcohol without it causing major damage to our health. We know when to stop, or might rarely drink outside of special occasions.
The short term effects are fairly easy to spot. Intoxication, with the risks that may bring. Accidents, or violent altercations may ensue. Long term alcohol can damage the heart and the brain. It can cause vitamin deficiencies leading to potentially catastrophic consequences. Some heavy drinkers may develop alcohol dependence. When this occurs, people can develop life threatening complications if they abruptly stop alcohol. Tremor, agitation and ultimately seizures may ensue. This is called delerium tremens. This can be rectified by prompt medical attention, and admission to hospital for “detox”.
Over my time I’ve met countless people who have “lost it all”, thanks to alcohol. Many of us will say it will “never happen to me”. For some, alcohol problems creep up on them. What starts off as a relaxing drink after work, may become an “eye-opener”. Then jobs are lost, putting pressure on relationships, and before you know it, everything is gone.
Stick to safe drinking levels. Find other ways to lose stress, restructure life, and if you think you have an alcohol problem, get help soon.