Assess your own drinking
If you are concerned about your own drinking you can do a quick self-assessment of your drinking using this short questionnaire. It will indicate whether your drinking is within the safer guidelines, or whether it might be creeping up to levels where it may cause harm later in life.
The information below discusses different types of drinking, alcohol units, and contains our tips for cutting down.
Drinking at home
This type of drinking is very often about numbing the unpleasant emotions associated with loneliness or isolation. It can also be about the dread of lying in bed before sleep with no distractions, alone with our thoughts which for many can be an unpleasant experience. We become convinced we need the alcohol to sleep. Sometimes it can simply be the case of a relaxing habit turning into a physical dependency.
Social anxiety can be another reason we drink: walking into a bar you may feel you need courage to approach someone new, you need a way to handle your fear of rejection or anxiety about sex and intimacy. Many feel that they can be themselves when they drink, while others find alcohol a way to block out disturbing memories or thoughts. Or perhaps it's less complicated than that and simply about keeping up with our friends, or having fun and not being aware of how much you are consuming. But before long, drinking can affect our work, sleep, relationships and responsibilities.
Knowing how to have fun safely can be a learned skill. Being embarrassed about your behaviour or not being able to remember the night before, getting into arguments, or having risky sexual encounters, can all be avoided if you re-learn some drinking behaviour.
Often counselling can help to address underlying issues and can equip us better to handle certain issues without needing a drink to do so.
Alcohol is a highly addictive substance when used in these ways. That means that stopping or cutting back can be distressing and even physically dangerous. A medically supervised Detox may be required. But don’t panic. Getting some support in making these decisions is crucial. The Antidote team can guide you through these decisions – you aren’t alone.
First off it’s good to understand how much you usually drink. To do that we need to understand what a ‘unit’ of alcohol is. This is the measurement that helps you compare different drinks and count how much you have.
A unit is smaller than you think! A half pint of regular-strength beer or cider (4% alcohol) is about one unit, so if you have a pint then that’s two. Stronger beer or cider will have a higher unit count, so a pint of premium lager at 5% alcohol will be almost 3 units. They add up quickly, eh?
A single measure of spirits (25ml at 40% alcohol) is also one unit, but pub measures are sometimes bigger – 35ml – or come as doubles unless you ask for a single. Check when you order, as a 70ml double is almost a triple 25ml measure. If you pour your own at home it’s likely you’ll pour a much larger amount than you’d get in pub so count it accurately!
The units in wine catch many people out. A standard pub glass of wine (175ml at around 12% alcohol) is just over 2 units. Ask for a large glass (250ml) and it will be 3 units. If you have three large glasses that’s actually a whole bottle (about 9 units). It’s really easy to drink more with wine than you plan to, but having a soft drink between glasses can be helpful to slow down.
Lower-risk drinking guidelines
In August 2016 the UK Government announced an update to drinking guidelines. This takes into account new evidence on the increased risks of several cancers from alcohol. Previously guidelines differed for men and women but now levels are the same.
The current guidelines on lower-risk drinking for people who drink regularly (most weeks) state:
- To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.
- If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread your drinking evenly over 3 or more days. If you have one or two heavy drinking episodes a week, you increase your risks of death from long term illness and from accidents and injuries.
- The risk of developing a range of health problems (including cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases the more you drink on a regular basis.
- If you wish to cut down the amount you drink, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days each week.
You can read more about units on the NHS Choices website.
Tips for cutting down:
- Keep a Drink Diary so you can see your overall pattern of drinking. If you can remember your drinking from last week, you will have an idea of whether you are drinking too much. You should also be able to understand some of the situations you drink excessively in.
- Tell other people you are cutting down – it is easier to stick to decisions when others know what they are.
- Choose a similar drink to your usual, but one that is weaker e.g. choose a regular strength lager rather than super strength.
- Replace some of your alcoholic drinks with a low alcohol drink or non-alcoholic drink (a ‘spacer’ rather than a ‘chaser’).
- Start drinking later in the day/evening.
- Take a smaller amount of money out to a drinking session, so you cannot afford so many drinks.
- Drink alcoholic beverages more slowly.
- Take smaller sips.
- Put your glass down between sips.
- Try not to finish your drink before others finish theirs.
- Make your first drink a non-alcoholic one, particularly if you are thirsty.
- Have at least two alcohol free days a week.
- Avoid ‘rounds’ when drinking in pubs/clubs.
- Decide on a limit for any drinking occasion, for example 5 units – be realistic.
- Keep a supply of non-alcoholic drinks at home.
- Identify different ways of relaxing – these can include exercising.
- If you are anticipating a heavy evening, avoid drinking on an empty stomach and do not drive.
- You may find it difficult to reduce your intake of alcohol around certain people – changing your drinking pattern may require you to steer clear of him/her for a short time, at least until you feel confident of coping with their demands for you to drink heavily.