'Social drinking': the hidden risks

If you think only alcoholics and binge drinkers are putting their health at risk, think again.

Many people who see themselves as "social drinkers" are at risk of developing long-term health conditions because of the amount they regularly drink.

Most drinkers are unaware that regularly drinking more than 14 units a week can lead to a wide range of long-term health problems, including cancer, stroke and heart attack.

Low-risk drinking advice

To reduce the risk of harming your health if you drink most weeks:

  • men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
  • spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week

Fourteen units is equivalent to six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine.

Read about the risks of drinking too much to find out how your drinking habits may be affecting your health.

Over the limit

More than 10 million people in England drink above low risk levels. There were about 23,000 alcohol-related deaths, including just over 17,000 from liver disease, in England as a result of a medical condition caused by alcohol.

Typically, longer-term alcohol-related illness or death affect older people who drink more than 14 units a week and consider themselves to be "social drinkers".

Professor Nigel Heaton, a liver transplant consultant, says: "Some people think it's natural to have a bottle of wine a night.

"It seems respectable because you're drinking with food and it's not associated with any drunken behaviour or even feeling drunk.

"But if it happens regularly, you may have problems later on. Most of us believe that people with alcoholic liver disease are alcoholics.

"You may not be an alcoholic, but if the overall amount of alcohol you drink regularly exceeds the low risk guidelines, it may still cause serious harm."

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Page last reviewed: 24/02/2016

Next review due: 24/02/2018


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