Bottoms up! Wait, are you alcohol dependent?

Fridge full of wine croppedA glass of wine is the highlight of the day for most of us. After a tough day at work followed by cooking dinner, officiating over the homework, refereeing sibling fall-outs and providing the free taxi service, all you want to do is sit down with a glass of wine.

Does that make us alcohol dependant? Or, in other words, alcoholics?

Box of winePractically one in ten (9%) of us drink more than the weekly recommended limit in one go.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics the other day reveal around 2.5 million people in Great Britain consume more than the recommended limit in one day (the calculations are based on the old recommendations of 21 units per week for men which has now been lowered to be in line with women at 14 units).

More than half of us (58%) or 28.9 million of us drink some alcohol in a typical week, I thought it would be more, and wine, not surprisingly, is our favourite tipple.

Prior to January the advice for women was to drink less than 2-3 units a day and men 3-4 or 28 units per week despite the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) recommendation of no more than 21 units spread over seven days. The new guidelines advise both men and women not to consume any more than 14 units over the course of three days or more.

Don’t get excited, on first reading it looks like a bottle and a half of wine every three days or half-a-bottle a night (normal, right?!). However, the guidelines stress this is the equivalent of a bottle and a half of wine over the course of a week. And, we’re not supposed to ‘save up’ our units.

Birthday Card - cocktail glasses

Here’s a handy guide to units although I have added in the bottle of wine as that’s the measurement I use

  • Single shot of spirits (25ml): 1 unit
  • Standard (175ml) glass of wine: 2.1 units
  • 1 bottle wine 750cl is approximately 9 units
  • 1 bottle of 11% wine is 8.2 units
  • 1 bottle of 14% wine is 10.5 units
  • Large (250ml) glass of wine: 3 units
  • Pint of 4%-strength beer: 2.3 units
  • Pint of 5%-strength beer: 2.8 units
  • Pint of strong cider (8%): 4.5 units

Units were first introduced in the UK in 1987 to help us measure the amount we were drinking and one unit is equivalent to 10ml and is around the average a person can process in an hour.

Although it varies, it takes an hour for your body to get rid of 10ml of alcohol. Thus, if you drink a bottle of wine on a Saturday night and you’re off to the early morning football match or whatever sport your off-spring is currently participating and you start drinking at 8.00pm, it will take 9 hours for the alcohol to disappear from your body. I’m no scientist but I assume your body, clever little thing that it is, can consume and process alcohol at the same time. So if you drink a bottle and start drinking at 8pm, I reckon, using this simple calculation, that you would have processed all the alcohol by 7am. If you drink two bottles and start drinking at 6pm, you will still have alcohol swimming around your body until around 12 noon. That’s quite a sobering thought.

Des and beerMen are more likely to drink the old weekly recommended level in a day with their favourite being beer, stout, lager or cider. They are more likely to be aged 25-44, closely followed by 45-64-year-olds and are more likely to be living in Wales or Scotland.

The rules also say that it’s best not to “save up units” and drink them all in one go and to make sure you have alcohol-free days.

Meanwhile, the chief medical officer said there was no regular safe limit for drinking alcohol.

I am still giving myself a pat on the back as I tend to drink a few glasses most nights. I also get an extra pat because a few months ago I switched to giving myself three alcohol-free nights a week and I have stuck to it. But as we’re not supposed to advocate the merits of regularly drinking a glass or two of wine to take the edge off the world, I feel I should provide some additional stats – all readily available on the Alcohol Concern and Drink Aware websites, sources of information I am sure with which you are all very familiar.

  • 10.8 million adults drink at levels that pose a risk to their health
  • Alcohol accounts for 10% of disease and death in the UK which makes it one of the three biggest lifestyle risk factors for disease and death after smoking and obesity
  • Alcohol is 61% more affordable than it was in 1980
  • The NHS estimates that around 9% of men in the UK and 4% of UK women show signs of alcohol dependence
  • Adults living in households in the highest income quintile (22%) are twice as likely to drink heavily than adults in the lowest income quintile (10%)
  • The proportion of adults who drink every day increases with age – just 1% of 16-25-year-olds had drank every day the previous week when surveyed; 4% in 25-44; 9% in 25-64; and 13% in 65 plus
  • However, it is widely regarded that the survey data underestimates actual alcohol consumption, HM Revenue & Customs data suggest that survey estimates of consumption represent between 55% and 60% of the true figure

So do we have a problem? As a nation the figures suggest that yes, we do.

But do you have specifically have a problem? Technically, if your consumption exceeds the recommended levels outlined above, just to reiterate, that’s a measly bottle and a half of wine a week for women, then yes, pretty much we all do.

What’s the chance of us changing our habits? Well, like me, you may well cut down a bit but there will be fairly regular occasions, when friends pop round, a birthday, a holiday, etc, when you probably quite easily bust the recommended limit in one night. I can’t see us opting for a cuppa on a Friday night after a hard week at work rather than a glass of wine.

Finally, then are we alcoholics?

Here’s what I found on the NHS website: ‘If you find it difficult to enjoy yourself or relax without having a drink, it’s possible you’ve become dependent on alcohol’.

Before you all start looking up the number for your nearest AA meeting, it goes onto ask a series of questions (see below). I panicked after the first one, obviously the answer was ‘yes’ and ‘sometimes’ to number two, but the rest were ‘no’. According to my self-diagnosis, I am not dependent on alcohol!

1) Worrying about where your next drink is coming from and planning social, family and work events around alcohol
2) Finding you have a compulsive need to drink and it’s hard to stop once you start
3) Waking up and drinking – or feeling the need to have a drink in the morning
4) Anxiety, depression and suicidal feelings – these can develop because regular, heavy drinking interferes with neurotransmitters in our brains that are needed for good mental health
5) Suffering from physical withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shaking and nausea, which stop once you drink alcohol.

I don’t know about you, but all this talk of alcohol and unit calculations is enough to make me want to reach for a glass of wine! Chin, chin! Remember to drink carefully, we don’t want you spilling any now! Ok, party-poopers, that was just a joke, drink sensibly, blah, blah.


One thought on “Bottoms up! Wait, are you alcohol dependent?

  1. Feeling relieved, as using the AA definition I’m not an alchoholic! However, I was told by an eminent psychiatrist that needing a drink to unwind puts you seriously in the danger zone, so I’m not going to get smug.


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