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Know Your Units

For many of us, drinking with friends and family is one of life's pleasures - a chance to relax and enjoy ourselves. But for a lot of people, their drinking habits can lead to problems. And if you frequently drink above a certain level, you're putting your health and welfare at risk. 

To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level if you drink most weeks:

  • men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis  
  • spread your drinking over three or more days if you regularly drink as much as 14 units a week 
  • if you want to cut down, try to have several drink-free days each week

Half a pint of 3.5% beer/lager/cider is one unit  BUT many continental lagers are closer to 5% while extra strong lagers can be as strong as 9%!

One small (125 ml) glass of wine at 9% is one unit BUT who uses small glasses? Certainly not pubs and probably not at home either. Plus most wines are now about 11-13%.

25ml pub measure of spirit at 40% is one unit BUT some pubs now serve 35ml as standard. Plus other pubs will serve you a double unless you specify otherwise.

Pregnant women or women trying to conceive should avoid drinking alcohol. If they do choose to drink, to protect the baby, they should not drink more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk.

Additional advice from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) advises women to avoid alcohol in the first three months in particular, because of the increased risk of miscarriage.

The NHS gives daily limits for regular drinking to make it clear that you can't store up your whole week's 'allowance' until the weekend and then drink heavily (this type of heavy or binge drinking is often harmful). 

Alcohol, Wolverhampton

The Health Dangers of Drinking Too Much Alcohol

Drinking too much can put a serious strain on your body. It takes your liver an hour to process one unit of alcohol. So having two or three drinks an hour overloads your system - which means your health could suffer. After a session of heavy drinking take a break for 48 hours to let your body recover.

Immediate effects

When you drink too much or too quickly, for a start you'll experience:

  • Dizziness
  • Being sick
  • Falling over
  • Headaches
  • Hangover

You might hope to sleep it all off but the most common side effect of excessive drinking is a hangover. These vary according to how much you drank and how well your body processes alcohol.

Hangovers can leave you tired and unable to concentrate. This can lower your performance at work and your ability to carry out complicated or physically demanding tasks. It's also more difficult to control your moods.

Other short-term effects

  • Sexual difficulties like impotence
  • Slowed breathing and heartbeat
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Increased risk of accident and injury

Regular over-drinking

Regularly drinking more than the recommended number of units over a long period can lead to complications like:

Certain types of cancer, especially breast cancer

  • Memory loss, brain damage or even dementia
  • Increased risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Liver disease, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer
  • Stomach damage
  • Potentially fatal alcohol poisoning

Other Iong-term effects

As you get older, the risks increase. Not only is your body less able to process alcohol, but if you fall you are more likely to seriously injure yourself. You may also notice as time passes:

  • Smaller genitals
  • Lower sperm count
  • Loss of body hair
  • Irregular periods and lower fertility
  • Damage to an unborn child
  • Your appearance can suffer:
  • Weight gain from alcohol's high calorie content
  • Skin problems

Tips On Cutting Down

There are some simple steps to follow if you are thinking about cutting down on drinking.

  • Decide on your ultimate goal. Do you want to give up alcohol altogether? Or do you want to cut down to a set daily amount? Maybe you want to avoid binge drinking.
  • Pick a day in the next week to start cutting down. Go for a day when you are less likely to be under pressure, so it's easier to avoid alcohol.
  • Keep a drink diary. Writing this on a regular basis will help you to work out how much you're drinking and to calculate your units.
  • Work out how you can avoid situations that you know will encourage you to drink - for example, if you're going out with friends suggest the cinema instead of the pub.
  • Pace yourself. Try drinking each drink more slowly or alternating alcoholic drinks with soft or low alcohol ones.
  • Find something else to do while you drink, like chatting, playing darts or pool, or dancing. This will take your mind off your drinks and help you to slow down.
  • Have alcohol-free days. Get out of the habit of drinking because you are stressed or have nothing else to do. Look for other ways to relax: activities like swimming, yoga or going to the cinema, which will make you feel better and don't involve alcohol.
  • Take stock of your progress and make sure you give yourself credit where it's due for your achievements so far. This will help you keep going to achieve your targets.
  • Don't give up! Changing a habit like drinking takes time and hard work and sometimes it's difficult to drink less. Focus on what you've achieved so far and reward yourself when you have met your drinking targets. If you do relapse, don't stop; just set a new date to start reducing again.

Counselling and Psychotherapy for Alcohol Abuse

Accepting that you have a problem is the first step to recovery. A counsellor or psychotherapist will help you to understand the cause of your alcohol issue, which may be stress, a relationship problem or lack of confidence. It can also be a way to 'self medicate' for depression or anxiety. Counselling or psychotherapy will normally deal with understanding the root cause of your alcohol problem, your relationship with alcohol and your triggers. It will also include a programme of behavioural change and strategies for abstaining and relapse prevention.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for Alcohol Abuse

CBT's approach to alcohol dependence is to identify unhelpful and unrealistic thoughts and beliefs that may be contributing towards your alcohol dependence, such as:

  • "I can't relax without alcohol."
  • "My friends would find me boring if I was sober."
  • "Just drinking one pint can't hurt."

Once such thoughts and beliefs are identified, you will be asked to base your behaviour on more realistic and helpful thoughts, such as:

  • "Lots of people have a good time without alcohol and I can be one of them."
  • "My friends like me for my personality, not for my drinking." 
  • "I know I can't stop drinking once I start."

CBT also helps you to identify triggers that can cause you to drink, such as:

  • stress
  • social anxiety
  • being in "high-risk" environments such a pub, club or restaurant

The therapist will teach you how to avoid certain triggers and how to cope effectively with those that are unavoidable.

Make An Appointment

If you would like to arrange an appointment, make a referral or require further information about how we can help please telephone our Wolverhampton practice on: 01902 827808.  Alternatively fill out our online contact form.

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Medical disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice by a qualified doctor.