St Vincent's Hospital, FairviewSubstance Abuse Service

Alcohol

In many parts of the world, drinking alcohol is a common feature of social gatherings. Nevertheless, the consumption of alcohol carries a risk of adverse health and social consequences related to its intoxicating, toxic and dependence-producing properties.

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In addition to the chronic diseases that may develop in those who drink large amounts of alcohol over a number of years, alcohol use is also associated with an increased risk of acute health conditions, such as injuries, including from traffic accidents.

Overall there is a causal relationship between alcohol consumption and more than 60 types of disease and injury. Alcohol is estimated to cause about 20-30% worldwide of oesophageal cancer, liver cancer, and cirrhosis of the liver, homicide, epilepsy, and motor vehicle accidents. Worldwide alcohol causes 1.8 million deaths. Unintentional injuries alone account for about one third of the 1.8 million deaths.

(Adapted from World Health Organisation website – www.who.int)

Irish Context

In Ireland, there has been “a dramatic increase in alcohol related harm” since the early ‘90’s. A major 2008 report titled Alcohol Related Harm in Ireland examines 60 separate indicators. Download full report here.



Alcohol Amounts

The wording used to determine quantities of alcohol can vary from ‘units of alcohol’ to ‘standard drinks’. We have chosen to stick with units.



TERM

Grams of Alcohol
LOW RISK   MALE
LOW RISK FEMALE

   IRELAND
Standard Drink
(SD)

10g
Up to 21* SD
Over 7 days
Up to 14* SD
Over 7 days

   UK

Unit

8g
Up to 21 units
Over 7 days
Up to 14 units
Over 7 days

* A recent report issued by the HSE (A standard drink in Ireland: what strength? Hope, A. (2009)) issued new guidance on low risk levels of alcohol consumption for men and women. This new guidance takes into account the different alcohol content in the UK unit and the Irish Standard Drink. It states that low risk weekly guidelines should be 11 standard drinks for women and 17 standard drinks for men. As yet, this information has not been reproduced in the standard health promotion leaflets.

For further information on ‘standard drinks’ go to www.healthpromotion.ie and search for alcohol.

The strength of alcoholic drinks varies widely – this is why the (UK) unit measurement was devised – as a way to determine the actual alcohol content of drinks.

An exact way to calculate units is

Multiply the %volume of the drink by the number of millilitres and divide the answer by 1000.

Example 1

A 500ml can of beer is 4.8% vol

Example 2

A litre of vodka is 30% vol

The table provided gives a rough guide on unit values for a range of alcoholic drinks:

%   Volume

 Pint

275 mls
330 mls
750 mls

   Litre

3½ %
2
1
2⅔
3⅓
4½ %
3⅓
5½ %
3
1 ¾
4
8 %
6
8
9 %
5
3
9
12 %
9
12
13 %
13
14½ %
11
14½
17 %
12¾
17
20 %
15
20
30 %
22½
30
40 %
30
40
43 %
32¼
43

E.g.  A 1-litre bottle of wine that is 13% volume contains 13 units


Whether you use units or standard drinks as a benchmark, it is worth remembering that :

1.   They are upper limits, not targets to be reached!
2.   They do not apply if you are ill, pregnant, run down, on medication or under 18.