Alcohol and Our Health - Is there a safe drinking limit

Healthy Lifestyle

Jaime Rose Chambers

Alcohol has long been a part of many cultures. These days, it’s an integral part of many dining and entertainment experiences and many people take the making, tasting and acquiring of it very seriously. It’s also often enjoyed and used in excess. Alcohol is considered a drug, and drinking too much can at the least make you feel pretty awful, and at its worst, be fatal. So what is the deal with alcohol and our health and what is a safe drinking limit, if any? 

In a nutshell, alcohol is never considered completely ‘safe.’ The World Health Organisation has issued a statement based on decades of research that states ‘no level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health.’ It’s considered a class 1 carcinogen, which is the highest level of cancer-causing product, which also includes tobacco and asbestos. Basically, the less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from it.  

In saying this, there are guidelines for a framework on alcohol consumption to keep you safe from alcohol harm and are as follows: 

Healthy men and women should consume no more than 10 standard drinks of alcohol per week. They should also not drink any more than four standard drinks in any one day. 

Kids under 18 and pregnancy and breastfeeding women shouldn’t drink alcohol as if affects the development of the brain of the developing child and foetus. 

How alcohol affects you is dependent on a number of factors, such as your age, gender,  health status and other medical conditions, and interaction with other drugs and medications. Alcohol can also hit you harder if you are drinking on an empty stomach, have a lower tolerance to alcohol or don’t drink regularly, are light in weight and muscle mass and if you are young. 

After we drink alcohol, within minutes it passes through the walls of our stomach and intestines and into our blood stream, slowing down the brain and affecting other bodily processes. 

The liver is the organ responsible for clearing alcohol from our system. An enzyme in the liver converts alcohol into acetaldehyde, a toxin to the human body. It takes roughly an hour to metabolise each standard drink you consume.  

Other long-term effects of alcohol include: 

  • Some cancers, such as bowel, stomach, breast, mouth, oesophageal, throat and liver cancers 

  • Cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure 

  • Fertility issues, such as low sperm count 

  • Brain and neurodegenerative diseases 

  • Cardiovascular issues, like high blood pressure and heart attacks 

  • Impotence and issues with sexual performance 

  • Substance abuse and other mental health issues 

  • Weight and metabolic issues 

  • Financial issues 

  • Domestic violence 

A standard drink is one that contains 10g of pure alcohol. This can vary a lot for many drinks. Typical drinks like wine, beer and champagne are more easily identified and labelled, but drinks like cocktails can be much harder to determine, often  having up to 3-4 standard units of alcohol per drink. 

What is a standard drink? 

  • 100mL wine or champagne 

  • Middy of full strength beer 

  • 30mL nip of spirits 

Unless you have any of the above mentioned factors that may impact alcohol’s effect on you, it’s likely that enjoying an occasional drink is ok, but there’s no way to know when and how it may begin to be harmful to you so the less you drink, the better. 

Jaime Rose Chambers

Please note: Jaime's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic, please consult your healthcare professional.

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