Healthy lives for young people
Wellbeing

Alcohol and binge drinking

The media like to portray young people as being irresponsible drinkers but in actual fact, the number of teenagers who are drinking has declined in recent years.

What’s more, the age at which young people have their first drink has risen. However, when it comes to underage drinking, the UK remains top of the table in Europe with 9 out of 10 young people saying that they have tried alcohol by the age of 15.

But that’s enough facts and figures. This page will give you some key facts to help you stay healthy, safe, in control and within the law.

Alcohol: the effects

We all know about the day-after-the-night-before. Hangovers come in many shapes and sizes and can mean we feel sick or have a headache. But did you know about these side effects?

Your mood

You might associate alcohol with making you happy and carefree but it’s also a depressant. This means it can make you feel low or anxious. This can in turn have a negative effect on your relationships with friends, family or your partner.

Your weight

Not many people realise this, but alcohol is full of calories. Down a couple of alcopops (like a Smirnoff Ice) or a couple of pints of beer and you’ve taken in the equivalent of a burger. Use the Drinkaware unit and calorie calculator to find out the calorie content of your drink of choice. Gaining weight is not only bad news for your physical health but it can knock your confidence and affect your self-esteem.

Your looks

It’s not just your waistline that could suffer, drinking is also bad for your skin. Your skin is your body’s largest organ and when we drink, the body becomes dehydrated and makes your skin dry, pale and spotty. Longer term, it can also lead to rosacea, a skin disorder that can make your skin permanently red and flushed.

Your sleep

Alcohol can make you sleepy but don’t be fooled, drinking alcohol will often give you a restless and disturbed nights sleep.

Your behaviour

Drinking alcohol affects your judgement and can make you do and say stupid things that you might regret. It is also closely linked to risky behaviours ranging from walking home alone late at night to having unprotected sex, antisocial behaviour and crime.

Your immune system

Regular drinking can affect your immune system, making it harder for you to fight off bugs and infections.

Alcohol ABC: staying safe & in control

Here are three great tips from Drinkaware, the UK charity that works to reduce alcohol misuse and harm:

A: Eat up

Make sure you eat a proper meal before you go out. A full stomach will help slow down the rate your body absorbs alcohol, so it won’t go to your head so quickly. Starchy food like pasta is best.

B: Mobile power

Remember to charge your phone before you go out and make sure you have plenty of credit. Call your parents at any time, day or night, if you’re in trouble.

C: Don’t mix

Stick to one type of alcohol. Mixing drinks makes it harder to keep track of how much you’ve had. Make sure you know which drinks are stronger than others.

Cutting down if you’re drinking too much

The tool on this page will guide you through a few simple questions that a GP might ask you to check if you’re drinking too much. But like lots of things in life, we know deep down when we’re overdoing it.

There are lots of benefits to cutting down on the booze, such as:

  • Feeling better in the morning
  • Being less tired during the day
  • Feeling happier or less low or anxious
  • Improvements to your skin
  • Stopping weight gain
  • Feeling fitter

So if you feel like your drinking is getting out of hand, here are 8 simple tips to help you cut down:

  1. Set a limit: Before you start drinking, set a limit on how much you’re going to drink
  2. Set yourself a budget: Only take a fixed amount of money to spend on alcohol
  3. Tell people: Tell friends and family that you’re cutting down, that it’s important to you and you’d like their support
  4. Take it a day at a time: Cut back a little each day. That way, every day you manage to cut back is a success
  5. Make it a smaller one: You can still enjoy a drink but go for smaller sizes
  6. Watch the strength: Cut down the alcohol by swapping your drink for something with a lower strength. This is expressed as a percentage (%) and you’ll find this information on the bottle. Alternatively, try adding a mixer. Your drink will last longer and won’t be as strong.
  7. Hydrate: Drink a pint of water before you start drinking, and don’t use alcohol to quench your thirst. Have a soft drink instead. You can also try having a soft drink or glass of water between alcoholic drinks.
  8. Drink free days: Have the odd day each week when you don’t have an alcoholic drink.

It can be useful to remind ourselves of what’s recommended when it comes to booze. Here are the government’s daily recommendations:

  • Men should have no more than three to four units per day
  • Women should have no more than two to three units per day

Binge drinking is twice the daily recommendation in one session. Read more about binge drinking here. If you drink more than 20 units in one session, you are at risk of alcohol poisoning.

It takes your liver one hour to process one unit of alcohol.

One unit = half a pint of beer (3.5% alcohol) OR

A single vodka (25ml at 40% alcohol) and coke

A small glass of wine (125ml at 8% alcohol)

Use the Drinkaware alcohol units calculator to calculate your units and check the calories in your drinks.

Drinking and the law

It can also be useful to know what’s legal when it comes to alcohol.

It is against the law:

  • To sell alcohol to someone under 18 anywhere
  • For an adult to buy or attempt to buy alcohol on behalf of someone under 18
  • For someone under 18 to buy alcohol, attempt to buy alcohol or to be sold alcohol
  • For someone under 18 to drink alcohol in licensed premises, except where the child is 16 or 17 years old and accompanied by an adult. In this case it is legal for them to drink (but not buy) beer, wine and cider with a table meal
  • For an adult to buy alcohol for someone under 18 for consumption on licensed premises, except as above

It is not illegal:

  • For someone over 18 to buy a child over 16 beer, wine or cider if they are eating a table meal together in licensed premises
  • For a child aged 5 to 16 to drink alcohol at home or on other private premises
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