The unit and you explained

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The Independent Online
QWhat is a unit?

A unit of alcohol is 8 grams: the amount contained in half a pint of ordinary beer or lager, or in a small glass of wine or in a standard measure of spirits.

QHow many units can I now drink?

As much or as little as you want. However, new government advice is that regular consumption of between three and four units a day by men - and two and three units by women - does not present a significant health risk.

Men who drink consistently four or more units a day are warned of the health risks.

QHow do the new guidelines compare with existing advice?

The Government's current sensible drinking advice is that drinking less than 21 units a week by men - which equates to three units a day - and 14 units a week by women - 2 units a day - is unlikely to damage health.

QWhy is the Government switching to daily guidelines?

A recommended daily alcohol limit is a more useful aid to drinkers monitoring their intake, than a weekly total. It argues that it will help avoid drunkenness by encouraging them to plan how much to drink on a social occasion. The weekly limit bears little relation to single drinking episodes and may mask heavy binges.

QDoes it make any difference if I use up most of units in a binge?

Yes. Apart from the social impact of binge drinking - violence, depression, suicidal behaviour, the increased risk of accidents - the health benefits of alcohol is more evident with regular daily drinking.

In fact the benefits may be lost altogether - and the health risks exacerbated - by irregular heavy drinking episodes.

QWhat is the evidence that drinking is A. harmful; B. beneficial

A: In the short term alcohol is implicated in many accidents at home and on the road; in violent crime, domestic violence, child neglect and abuse.

In the long term heavy consumption of alcohol is linked with both cirrhosis and cancer of the liver.There are also reports of an association between alcohol and cancer of the stomach, colon, rectum, lung and pancreas, although a causal link has been ruled out. There is a weak causal link with breast cancer. High blood pressure - with associated risk of heart attack or stroke - may result from regular drinking and binge drinking in particular.

In pregnant women, alcohol can induce abortion, impaired foetal growth, facial and other physical defects, and impaired physical and mental development in childhood. It may also effect fertility in both sexes. Heavy drinking also has a major impact on mental health, being strongly related to depression and suicide, while 25 units or more a day long term results in brain damage.

B. Many studies show that light to moderate consumption of alcohol - as little as one unit a day - protects against coronary heart disease, ischaemic stroke, and cholesterol gallstones. The evidence to date suggests that the beneficial effects on the heart relate only to men over 40 and postmenopausal women.