Medical Matters: Has your drinking crept up on you? 

A busy summer will help replenish the coffers

If you would like help to change your pattern of drinking, take a look at the Torbay Drug and Alcohol Service website - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Medical Matters - this week Jane Anderson, who works as a peer support coordinator at the Torbay Drug and Alcohol Service, talks about safe levels of alcohol and where you can find help or self-management tools if you think you are drinking more than the recommended levels 

Christmas and New Year celebrations seem to start earlier and earlier each year.

It can be a wonderful time of year with people coming together, even in these challenging times.

However, it is good to be aware of the levels of alcohol you are consuming as this can increase without you realising. 

For others, it is not such a happy time of year, it can be a time of isolation which can trigger lots of different emotions, and again increased alcohol consumption can be something that slowly creeps up.

If you are drinking alcohol more than three days a week and are not sure about how much you are drinking, chances are you may be drinking at a risky level.

It can be really easy for this to happen and to anyone. 

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So, it’s probably important for us all to remember what the recommended level of drinking is for men and women to be able to understand about what units really mean.

Did you know the recommendation for healthy drinking habits is consuming less than 14 units a week?

That’s the equivalent to six pints of a low-strength lager and six medium classes of wine!

It’s not just what you drink, it’s also how and when.

It is important not to have days of intense drinking, which is considered to be more that nine units in one go.

So, a night out or drinking a whole bottle of wine is considered a binge.

Three to four pints of medium to strong beer or cider, again would be considered as a heavy night’s drinking. 

Over Christmas, the danger is stocking up on spirits, and drinking your way through all of them!

Just one measure of spirit is one unit but how many of us know how to pour an accurate measure at home?

It is highly likely a gin and tonic at home will contain two to three units.

So, looking at what constitutes units and intense drinking, it’s really easy to see how drinking at a risky level can creep up. 

So, if you are worried about how much you are drinking, a great New Year’s resolution may be to cut down your drinking or even stop. 

Drinking affects every part of our body, not just our liver, but our heart, our skin and our hormones.

Alcohol can affect our judgement, our decisions and our moods and can, for some, lead to depression.

It can be the cause of arguments and domestic situations, particularly this time of year. 

Cutting down is something you may be able to do with the help of NHS guidance.

It is possible to reduce your drinking to a safer level at any age. 

You may want to give Dry January a go.

Dry January is the UK's one-month alcohol-free challenge.

It isn't about giving anything up. It's about getting something back.

 Find out more at https://alcoholchange.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/dry-january

Taking a questionnaire is a good place to start to gauge whether you are drinking more than the recommended levels.

There are many self-assessment tools on the internet. However, I like the DrinkWise website where you can you can take a questionnaire that assesses weekly consumption at www.drinkaware.co.uk

If you feel that you would like help to change your pattern of drinking, then why not take a look at the Torbay Drug and Alcohol Service website at www.torbayandsouthdevon.nhs.uk/services/drug-and-alcohol-service/

We are a trained team of medical and non-medical staff with lots of information and advice on ways to refer yourself.

It is all strictly confidential and you could be put in touch with someone who has been through the same experience, to help support you. 

If you would rather do something yourself from home then you could always start with self-management online tools on our website at www.torbayandsouthdevon.nhs.uk/services/drug-and-alcohol-service/self-management-tools/

Finally, there are other organisations and groups such as SMART UK - www.smartrecovery.org.uk - and Alcohol Anonymous - www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk

These organisations have meetings in your area, so please check out their websites for more details.

Jane Anderson has worked in Drug and Alcohol Services for almost 30 years

Jane Anderson has worked in Drug and Alcohol Services for almost 30 years - Credit: Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust