Body & Fitness

Binge drinking and its effects

You may think you’re doing the responsible thing by only drinking once or twice a week, instead of indulging every day.

But those Friday night drinks after work could prove to be worse for your health than spreading them out over the week if you tend to overdo it.

A new study has found binge drinking may be more risky for your health than drinking the same amount of alcohol over a week. And by binge drinking, they don’t mean guzzling the booze until you’re falling-down drunk.

The official definition of binge drinking is six or more standard drinks in one session, yet many Kiwis believe they’ve only binged if they knock back 14 or more drinks in one go, according to research commissioned by the Alcohol Advisory Council.

And don’t kid yourself that one glass of alcohol is always the equivalent of one standard drink – it depends on the alcohol content of what you’re drinking and how big the glass is. For example, while a 330ml can of beer that is four percent alcohol qualifies as one standard drink, a 330ml bottle of beer that has five percent alcohol is equal to 1.3 standard drinks and a 500ml glass of four percent beer is equal to 1.6 standard drinks.

It’s not a good statistic – 29% of adult drinkers in New Zealand are considered to be binge drinkers, and their alcohol habits could be putting their health at risk.

Excessive drinking is linked to a variety of health problems, including brain damage, cancers, liver damage, stomach ulcers, osteoporosis and depression.

A recent study published in the British oedical Journal has found that your risk of heart disease may rise if you regularly consume a large chunk of your weekly recommended intake of alcohol (21 standard drinks for men and 14 for women) in just one or two sessions.

The French researchers compared the drinking habits of a group of French people with some in Northern Ireland, and found that although the French drank more – 30 units compared with the Irish drinkers’ 22 units a week – the Irish were twice as likely to have a heart attack.

The scientists claim the results were not down to the fact that the French had better diets (in fact many of those studied had higher blood pressure and the same cholesterol levels as the Irish). The significant difference, they say, was that the French drank little and often throughout the week, while the Irish downed most of their weekly total in just a weekend.

The findings have been disputed by some experts, who say it’s the overall amount of alcohol you drink that puts you at risk of health problems, not when you drink it. They say 30 units a week is still bad for heart health, even if it is spread out over seven days.

Still, downing a lot of alcohol in one outing is hard on the body, and the bottom line is that drinking too much can be bad for anyone. The best way to prevent alcohol-related health problems is to cut down to the recommended levels or less.

For more information on the alcoholic content of drinks visit alac.org.nz

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