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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 November 2007, 07:21 GMT
Alcohol: Tips for safer drinking
By Dr Jonathan Mitchell
Consultant hepatologist

Deaths from alcohol related liver disease are rising rapidly in the UK.

Too much can be bad news

As a hospital doctor I see people in their twenties and thirties every month with liver disease.

More and more young people, especially young women, are developing this silent disease, often without the faintest idea their drinking was harmful.

However, with health scare stories abounding in the press every day, you could be forgiven for thinking that the only way to live a long and happy life is to give up all the things that make life so enjoyable in the first place.

Drinking alcohol is very much part of our culture and therefore any health advice needs to be constructive rather than prohibitive or we all switch off.

So here are my top tips for safer drinking so that you can continue to have a good time but not suffer as a result:


Do you actually know how much alcohol you are consuming?

Current safe drinking guidelines recommend 14 units and 21 units weekly for women and men respectively but gone are the days when a glass of wine contained a unit and a pint of beer contained two.

The average bottle of wine contains nine units of alcohol meaning a large glass may contain as many as four, whilst strong draft beers contain four units a pint.

Add up how many units you drank last night. You may be surprised.


Drinking with food, as most Europeans do, reduces the amount of alcohol you absorb, spreads the alcohol over an evening and is less likely to leave you feeling ghastly the next morning.

So do as the Europeans do!


Alternating alcohol with water or soft drinks will reduce the amount of alcohol you consume, give you a longer fun evening out and protect you from the ravages of alcohol-induced dehydration.

Ever thought you were dying the morning after? Wonder why?

During heavy drinking, the kidneys work hard to get rid of alcohol and its associated toxins and need to get rid of a lot of water to do so.

This leads to dehydration, headache and nausea.

By the end of the evening, those pints of water you drink just before going to bed are unlikely to be too much help; the stomach, paralysed by the alcohol, may fail to absorb the water and sometimes you may see those bed time drinks again - the next morning.


The liver is an amazing organ so give it a rest.

From the production of antibodies to fight off infection to the processing of food to enable you to grow to its role as the waste disposal and detoxification unit within the body, the liver has a multitude of vital functions.

Also, unlike other organs, the liver has the ability to re-grow or regenerate after suffering damage.

However, even it has its limits. Damage it too much and permanent scarring will occur and eventually it will fail.

So, have several days a week where you drink no alcohol to allow your liver to regenerate.

Treat it well and it'll last you a lifetime.


Worryingly, physical signs and symptoms of liver damage are almost always non-existent until the damage is irreversible.

By the time jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), swelling of the abdomen with fluid (ascites), bleeding from the stomach or confusion (encephalopathy) occur, it may already be too late.

So if alcohol is affecting your home life, job, relationships or finances, its time to cut down.

If you're worried, there is lots of health and advice out there so dealing with it now will be a great investment for your future.

  • Dr Jonathan Mitchell is a consultant hepatologist at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth.

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