There was a time when it was considered macho to drink as much as possible before driving, and hope that you were not stopped by the police. These days this type of behaviour is considered both foolish, and dangerous, and there is an understanding that drinking and driving don’t mix. Up until recently the standard advice from the medical profession was that safe drinking was up to 21 units a week for men, and up to 14 units for women. However, it is now known that this is an oversimplification. How and why you are drinking are also very important.
It is now well established that drinking too much alcohol can lead to liver damage. It can also cause damage to the brain, and is a risk factor for developing heart disease. It can also affect fertility, in particular lowering the sperm count in men. It can also reduce inhibitions, and lead to very anti-social behaviour. But on the positive side, there is evidence that small amounts can reduce the risk of heart disease, and that those who drink small amounts are likely to live longer. Some might even advise people to have a small drink several times a week. However, for some people this is difficult. They like the effect that alcohol can produce, and they become addicted. So when does social drinking become dangerous?
Alcohol is not the most addictive substance in the world but if you start drinking enough on a regular basis, and especially if you use it to change your mood, problems may arise. Think of all those excuses: ‘Dutch courage’, a ‘pick-me-up’, to relax or go to sleep, a drink before you go out to socialise; you may find that the amount you are drinking creeps up over time. If you are drinking several units every night or your lunch breaks stretch until mid-afternoon you may be on the slippery slope. Another danger sign is binge drinking, when more than a week’s ‘safe’ amount is consumed in one go.
So the dangers are really quite subtle – you would have to drink enormous quantities before the physical dangers came to the fore. But one of the most subtle ways in which alcohol can harm is by limiting ones ability to move on and change. Life is never static but change can be daunting. Sometimes people deal with their anxieties by drinking and numb their feelings. We see it on films don’t we: the hero suffers some terrible trauma and buries his feelings in the bottle. In real life it is not always so blatant but it can creep up on you. Sometimes it is not until you stop drinking for a couple of months that you can actually start to come alive again.
In summary then safe drinking is when you choose to do it for social rather than emotional reasons; you do not drink too much at one sitting regularly and when the amount you drink does not alter your behaviour significantly to the detriment of others. In the longer term the amount you drink should be pretty much under the magic figures above depending on your gender and drink should not become your crutch. And if you cannot move on – move off… the drink.