Information Unlimited: All The Facts You Need To Avoid Heartache - No.17 Alcohol And Hangovers

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The Independent Culture
The facts

Though drinking makes people feel relaxed, happy and even euphoric, alcohol is in fact a depressant. It switches off the part of the brain that controls judgement, leading to loss of inhibitions.

Nearly one in 10 male drinkers and one in 20 female drinkers have an alcohol problem of some kind, and drink is related to 28,000 deaths each year in the UK.

One in four male hospital admissions is related in some way to alcohol, and alcohol-related health problems cost the National Health Service around pounds 150m per year.

Alcohol is involved in 40 per cent of domestic violence and in up to 40 per cent of child abuse incidents reported in the UK.

About 65 per cent of suicide attempts are linked with excessive drinking.

At least 10 people a week die as a result of drinking and driving.

75 per cent of employers say that alcohol misuse is a problem in their organisation, and between 8 million and 14 million working days are lost each year in this country as a result of alcohol-related sickness.

Sensible drinking

Men should drink no more than three to four units per day and women no more than two to three units a day. One unit of alcohol is the equivalent of a half pint of beer or lager, a small glass of wine, or a pub measure of spirits.

A quick formula for working out the number of units in any given drink is to multiply the amount of liquid in the bottle by the drink's alcoholic strength and divide by 1,000. For example, a 75cl (750ml) bottle of wine that has an alcohol content of 12 per cent (as marked on the label) contains nine units (thus 12 multiplied by 750 divided by 1,000 equals nine). So there are nine units of alcohol in one bottle of wine.

Why does alcohol affect people differently?

Body size determines how alcohol affects us. Big people have more blood in their bodies, so that the level of alcohol is more diluted than the same amount of alcohol in a smaller person.

Because women's bodies have more fat and less fluid than men's bodies, the concentration of alcohol in the blood will be higher in women, and women may also be more sensitive than normal to the effects of alcohol during their period.

Drinking and driving

One unit of alcohol on an empty stomach results in a peak alcohol level of 15mg per 100ml of blood in a man and as much as 20mg per 100ml of blood in a woman.

The drink-driving limit is 80mg alcohol/100ml blood. However, impairment to the drinker's driving ability occurs long before this limit is reached.

It takes about an hour for the liver to process one unit of alcohol. A couple of pints at lunch time may mean that your driving is still impaired in the early evening, and if you have had a really heavy night you will probably still be over the limit the following morning.

Tips for cutting down

Drink beer rather than spirits, drink more slowly and water down wine and spirits.

Choose beer and wine with a lower alcohol content.

Buy smaller glasses for the home, and use a drinks measure.

Why do we get hangovers?

Alcohol is a diuretic that makes you pass more liquid in your urine than you are putting in. Dehydration gives you a headache and makes you thirsty. Alcohol is also a cardiovascular dilator, making smoking seem like a great idea once you are on your second drink, but if you smoke it adds to your hangover the next day.

Alcohol stimulates the production of insulin, which lowers the blood sugar level, encouraging us to carry on drinking in order to take in more sugar.

Preventing hangovers

Abstinence is the best way to prevent waking up with a headache, an unquenchable thirst and the suspicion that a monkey has slept in your mouth. However, there are other tips that you can follow.

Eat before you drink - alcohol is absorbed more quickly on an empty stomach. Also it is a good idea to drink some non-alcohol before you drink alcohol - milk can help to line your stomach.

Think about your drink - some drinks are absorbed more quickly than others, so their effects are felt more quickly. Wines and sherries are absorbed more quickly than neat spirits and beers. The chemicals in sparkling wines, lagers and fizzy mixers speed up alcohol absorption, while the sugar in sweet drinks slows down absorption.

Don't mix drinks, and try not to smoke more than normal while drinking.

Before you go to bed try to drink a glass of water for every drink you have had, take two aspirin or ibuprofen and 50mg of vitamin B, and eat a couple of slices of bread and butter.

Hangover cures

A sachet of Dioralyte (available from chemists) mixed with water will rehydrate you and put back lost minerals. It also helps to eat a big breakfast, with tomatoes, salt and protein. Take 1,000mg of vitamin C and a double dose of Zinc B6 and fish oil capsules, and also take two Alka Seltzer.

Take gentle exercise and a hot bath to try to detoxify your system.

Alcohol Concern: 0171 928 7377 or

Drinkline: 0800 917 8282

Alcoholics Anonymous: 0345 697555