What kind of drinker are you?

Whether we have a few glasses after work or a weekly binge, most boozers have one thing in common - we put away more than we think
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The Middle-Class Wine Buff

The type: they come home stressed from well-paid jobs and open a bottle of wine. Before they know it, they've finished it off, and will open another to numb their stress. Because they're not getting rowdy down the pub, these drinkers don't tend to consider alcohol to be a problem, despite hangovers. Yet some middle-class drinkers are consuming twice the amount recommended on a very regular basis.

About 28 per cent of managerial or professional men drink on five or more days a week, compared with 17 per cent of men in routine occupations.

The hazards: A fatty liver is common in heavy drinking but is also found in those drinking above the recommended limits. Long-term overuse of alcohol can increase anxiety and cause depression. It is related to problems with sleeping, mood, violence, suicide and cancer. The risk of breast cancer increases from 88 per 1,000 non-drinking women to 133 per 1,000 drinking six drinks (a bottle of wine) a day.

The Alcoholic

The type: this is not just the wino sitting on the park bench - it could just as well be the middle-class wine buff (see above). According to Alcohol Concern, drinking 50 units or more a week (the equivalent of 25 pints of normal-strength lager a week, or three-and-a-half pints every day) is indicative of a dependency. The Institute of Alcohol Studies says that a person is considered to be dependent on alcohol when they have experienced three or more of the following symptoms during a year: a strong urge to drink, difficulty controlling how much they drink, or difficulty stopping; physical withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shaking, agitation and nausea, when they try to reduce drinking; a growing tolerance to alcohol - needing larger quantities to get the same effect; gradual neglect of other activities; or persistent drinking even though it is obviously causing harm.

The hazards: among men, deaths from liver disease and cirrhosis increased by 74 per cent between 1990 and 2000. At least five to seven per cent of diagnosed cases of hypertension are due to heavy drinking. Alcohol also contributes to obesity. Heavy drinking is closely linked with mental illness. There is also a potential risk of violence or suicide - as well as liver cancer and gastritis.

The Teenage Drinker

The type: 12- or 13-year-olds experiment with alcohol at home. By 14 or 15 they drink with friends, often in secret. They get drunk to test their limits and have fun. Alcohol consumed by girls aged 11 to 13 rose 82.6 per cent from 2000 to 2006; for boys, the figure is 43.4 per cent. Drinkers outnumber non-drinkers from the age of 12. By 16, 94 per cent of young people have tried alcohol and feel this shows maturity.

The hazards: young minds and bodies are more vulnerable to alcohol's effects. In 2004/2005, 7,579 people under the age of 18 were admitted to hospital in Britain with primary and secondary diagnoses relating to alcohol, 21 per cent up on 2000. A primary condition would include alcohol poisoning. Secondary would be where alcohol was a contributory factor. Drinking can lower oestrogen levels in girls and testosterone in boys. Increased alcohol is also linked with lower bone mineral density in boys.

Alcohol is less sedating in adolescents than in adults, so they can keep drinking to excess. However, physical changes in the still-developing brain can last a lifetime. One study found that teenagers who drank excessively recalled 10 per cent less in memory tests than non-drinking teenagers.

In some cases, the impact was seen years later when they had stopped drinking. Alcohol also leads to unsafe sex.

The No-Head-for-Alcohol Drinker

The type: they dread going to parties because, after only one or two glasses, they feel either drunk or slightly ill. Yet they feel that they need to drink to relax in social situations. There are a number of reasons why alcohol can affect some people more profoundly than others, despite drinking the same amount. One relates to percentage of body fat. The more body fat you have, the less fluid you have to dilute alcohol, so the concentration in the body is higher. Women appear to have lower levels of alcohol dehydrogenase - an enzyme that metabolises alcohol - in their stomachs. Alcohol stays in their system longer before being metabolised, so has a greater effect.

The hazards: this apparently in-built biochemical protection usually stops this type of drinker from overindulging.

The Social Drinker

The type: they don't drink at home, but will always join in sessions when they go out with their friends. But many will drink more than they think, especially if they go out two or three times a week. Wine tends to be served in larger glasses, and shorts are often automatically sold as doubles.

In restaurants, waiters will refill their glass before it is finished, so they will have no accurate idea of what they have consumed.

The hazards: the Government states that if you drink within the recommended limits you ought not to incur any risks to your health. However, many social drinkers are not aware of how much there are actually drinking.

The Binge Drinker

The type: these are not just the people who indulge in huge quantities on a weekend. According to Alcohol Concern, binge drinking is defined as drinking twice the recommended limit in any one sitting. For a woman, it is the equivalent of two pints of Stella or three large glasses of wine. For a man, it is the equivalent of four pints of Fosters.

The hazards: binge drinking is a particularly dangerous form of consumption, according to the Institute of Alcohol Studies. The risk for alcohol dependence jumps dramatically for men who exceed seven drinks per occasion, and for women, five to six drinks per session. In about 44 per cent of violent crime, either the victim or the offender was said to have been drinking. One in five men admits to having had an argument after drinking in the previous year. There is a strong association between heavy drinking and depression. If you drink all your week's alcohol limit in one session, then the cardio-protective effect is nullified. Binge drinking on a weekly basis is damaging to the health, while a couple of times a year is unlikely to have an impact on long-term health.

The truth about units

The Department of Health advises that men should not regularly drink more than three to four units of alcohol per day, and women should not regularly drink more than two to three units of alcohol per day. Drinks have been getting stronger over the years, and a single pint of some beers could take you up to your limit.

A unit of alcohol is 10ml of pure alcohol

* A pint of ordinary-strength lager (Carling Black Label, Fosters) = 2 units

* A pint of strong lager (Stella Artois, Kronenbourg 1664) = 3 units

* A pint of ordinary bitter (John Smith's, Boddingtons) = 2 units

* A pint of best bitter (Fuller's ESB, Young's Special) = 3 units

* A pint of ordinary-strength cider (Woodpecker) = 2 units

* A pint of strong cider (Dry Blackthorn, Strongbow) = 3 units

* A 175ml glass of red or white wine = around 2 units

* A pub measure of spirits = 1 unit

* An alcopop (eg Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Breezer, WKD, Reef) = around 1.5 units

But isn't drinking good for you?

It is widely believed that drinking alcohol, particularly wine, is beneficial for the health. However, according to Alcohol Concern, the only thing known for sure is that about one unit a day can have a cardio-protective effect on men over 40 and post-menopausal women. Above two drinks a day, the risk of heart disease goes up. Scientists warned in April that even moderate alcohol consumption raised the risk of breast cancer. As little as two small glasses of wine daily can fuel a tumour, doubling its size in a matter of weeks as alcohol makes it harder for the immune system to fight off cancer. Breast cancer kills 12,400 women a year in Britain.