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Understanding Alcohol Harm: Alcohol Awareness Week

Alcohol Awareness Week is a time to talk about how alcohol affects our health and communities.

This year, the theme is understanding alcohol harm.

For Alcohol Awareness Week, let’s look at the harm drinking can do and how we can take steps to reduce it.

Alcohol Harm

By alcohol harm, we mean any negative impact of someone’s drinking.

The most obvious harm is to the drinkers themselves. Alcohol increases our risk of liver disease, cancer or stroke and makes mental health problems like depression or anxiety worse.

Poor sleep and low energy make it hard to do the things we need to do every day. This can strain our relationships with family, friends, and the people we work with.

Alcohol costs the NHS around £3.5 billion every year. Lots of the injuries treated in A&E are alcohol-related. Enormous resources are spent on managing long-term health conditions caused or made worse by alcohol.

Alcohol use in the UK

A quarter of adults drink more than the recommended 14 units a week.

Fourteen units are equivalent to six pints of normal-strength beer or a bottle and a half of wine over seven days.

A 2022 study found that 32% of men and 15% of women drank more than 14 units per week.

The guidance had previously been 21 units per week for men and 14 for women, but this was changed in 2016 to fourteen regardless of gender.

If you are not sure how many units are in a particular drink, use Alcohol Change UK’s unit calculator tool to find out,

It is safest not to drink more than 14 units and to spread it over three days or more, with a few alcohol-free days.

Alcohol in our society

For this year’s awareness week, Alcohol Change has made a new film exploring the role alcohol plays in our society. You can watch it below.

The film talks about how alcohol takes centre stage in our lives. We are exposed to alcohol advertising constantly, and it has become the default for relaxation, socialising or celebrating.

Alcohol Change wants to open the conversation about alcohol harm, and while harm can be severe, it is not inevitable.

What can we do?

An excellent first step is to use one of Alcohol Change UK’s tools to check your drinking.

Take their quick quiz or download the Try Dry app to see your risk of alcohol harm.

You can also use the Try Dry app to keep track of your drinking, which is a great way to start cutting down.

More tips for cutting down

As well as thinking about units and keeping track, Alcohol Change UK have lots of helpful suggestions for drinking less:

  • Have a few alcohol-free days each week, or a more extended rest and see the boost to your wellbeing
  • Choose smaller or lower alcohol drinks
  • Set a limit for how much you want to drink and stick to it
  • Explore lower-strength or alcohol-free alternatives. (Alcohol Change UK have reviews of lots of options)
  • Practice saying no. It’s OK to say no to a drink, but peer pressure can make it difficult. Practice what you’ll say and do it with confidence
  • Pace yourself. You don’t need to drink at the speed of others, and eating before and during drinking slows down how quickly the alcohol gets into your bloodstream

Help and Support

There are lots of ways to get support if you want to cut down on your drinking. Alcohol is addictive, and lots of people can struggle with it at different points in their lives.

If you feel you need help to cut down or stop drinking, you can speak to your GP. Local community services may also be able to help.

There is also the Newcastle Treatment and Recovery service, which supports people with issues with drug and alcohol use. You can self-refer without first seeing a GP. Call 0191 206 1117 or email NTARreferrals@cntw.nhs.uk

The NHS website has useful contacts, including

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