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Most people who have health problems from alcohol aren’t alcoholics. They're simply people who have regularly drunk over the limit for some years.
To help you get an idea of how many units you drink, you can use the Unit calculator
Drinking over the limit doesn't necessarily mean getting fully drunk. Regularly drinking just above recommended daily limits increases the risk of damaging your health.
Most people who drink too much don’t see any harmful effects at first. But alcohol’s hidden effects emerge later in life. By then they can be a serious problem.
Liver problems, reduced fertility, high blood pressure, increased risk of various cancers and hearts attacks are some of the effects of regularly drinking above safe levels.
To reduce your risk of developing alcohol-related health problems, the NHS recommends that:
'Regularly' means drinking these amounts every day or most days of the week. There's no guaranteed safe level of drinking, but if you drink below a certain level, the risks of harm to your health are reduced.
The effects of alcohol on your health will depend on how much you drink. The more you drink, the bigger the health risks. In terms of risks, there are three categories of drinker:
Men who regularly drink more than 2 pints of strong 5.2% lager a day:
Women who regularly drink two large glasses of 13% wine or more a day:
Lower-risk drinking means that you have a low risk of causing yourself future harm. However, drinking consistently within these limits is called lower-risk, rather than safe, because drinking alcohol is never completely safe.
For instance, some people may be unusually sensitive to alcohol, and drinking 2 units is still too much if you’re driving, operating machinery or are about to go swimming. It can also be too much for some people doing physical activity.
But in general, those of us who drink any alcohol at all should be in this category.
Drinking at this level increases the risk of damaging your health. Alcohol affects all parts and systems of the body, and it can be involved in more than 60 medical conditions.
If you're drinking at the increasing-risk threshold, your health risks are higher compared to non-drinkers:
If you're drinking significantly above the 2-3 or 3-4 units limit, your risks will be even higher than the risks outlined above.
If you regularly drink at these levels, you might already have problems such as fatigue or depression, weight gain, memory loss when drinking, sleeping poorly and sexual problems.
Whatever your age and sex, you’re probably in worse physical shape than you would be otherwise, and you could suffer from high blood pressure.
Some people argue a lot when they’re drinking, which can negatively affect their relationships with family and friends.
If you’re drinking at this level, you’re at an even higher risk of damaging your health compared to increasing-risk drinkers.
Again, all parts and systems of the body are affected by alcohol, and it can play a role in more than 60 medical conditions.
You’re at a much higher risk, and your body is probably being damaged already, even if you’re not aware of it yet.
If you regularly drink above the higher-risk threshold compared to non-drinkers:
The more you drink above the higher-risk threshold, the greater the risks. So some of the health risks can be even higher than those shown above.
You’re likely to have the same problems as increasing-risk drinkers: feeling tired or depressed, gaining extra weight or having periods of memory loss when drinking. You may be sleeping poorly or having sexual problems.
And, like increasing risk drinkers but possibly more so, you’re almost definitely in worse physical shape than you would be otherwise, whatever your age and sex. You could also suffer from high blood pressure.
At these levels, your drinking may make you argumentative, which might damage your relationships with family and friends.
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