Page last updated at 01:47 GMT, Monday, 19 May 2008 02:47 UK

Drinking diaries: A doctor's verdict

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

As the government launches its latest campaign to help people monitor what they drink, two drinkers keep an alcohol diary for a week - and get a doctor's verdict.


Caroline Eardley, 27, classes herself as a social drinker, who drinks no more than other people she knows, so she was shocked when she saw her total.

"When I wrote down the amount, I was like 'woah that is a lot'.

Caroline Eardley
Wed - no alcohol
Thur - Evening at a friend's = 2 units
Fri - lunch out, then to a pub and a house-warming = 20 units
Sat - friend's birthday - 10 units
Sun - no alcohol
Mon - wine with dinner = 3 units
Tue - wine with dinner = 2 units
Week's total = 37 units
Recommended limit = 14 units

"But I don't know anyone my age who sticks to 14 units a week."

Caroline, who works in PR in London, added: "I have a good job, I have no problems at work so I think so long as I am dealing with the day-to-day I will deal with the future.

"You think, I'm not caning it every night so what damage can it be doing?"

But Dr Dave Tomson, a Tyneside GP who works in alcohol services, said Caroline's drinking was "hazardous" and bordering on the "harmful and risky".

"The risks for Caroline, at the rates she is currently drinking, are what could happen to her after she has drunk 20 units.

"They might be very simple risks such as falling over and twisting her ankle, or doing her back in, or driving while drinking. And if this drinking level is a pattern she could also face relationship difficulties.

"If she sustained this pattern of drinking she would gradually get early problems such as weight gain. She is drinking at least two extra meals a week."

But he warned there were also long-term risks, which young drinkers like Caroline often ignore.

"Over time Caroline faces rises in blood pressure both acute and chronic rises in cholesterol and a fatty liver. She will eventually increase her risk of heart disease, liver disease and stroke," he said.

"She will also have an increased risk of breast cancer. Mouth throat and oesophageal cancers are rare, but she will increase her risk of them.

'I'll stop when I'm older'

Caroline said she might now alternate alcoholic and soft drinks when she is out.

"I always used to think if I had two or three days where I did not drink at all it cancelled out the badness."

I think at the moment I am being a bit hedonistic
Caroline Eardley

One of Caroline's grandmothers had breast cancer, and Caroline said the increased risk linked to drinking was "scary".

But she said: "The thing that scared me the most was the extra calories, because I would never eat two extra meals.

"This has made me pay more attention to what I drink, but I don't know whether it will make me change and that is a scary thing.

"When I have children and get older I know my drinking will stop.

"I think at the moment I am being a bit hedonistic."


Mark Foster is a keen runner and considers himself fit and healthy, so says he sees no problem with drinking over 100 units in a week.

The 29-year-old London-based economist said: "I have the same pattern of drinking throughout the week."

Mark Foster
Bank holiday - out with friends = 17 units
Tue - curry with friends = 12 units
Wed - park and pub with friends = 16 units
Thur - birthday meal =7.7 units
Fri - barbeque = 16 units
Sat - a friend's 30th = 25 units
Sun - another barbeque = 18.5 units
Week's total = 112.2 units
Recommended limit = 21 units

Rather than use units to gauge safe drinking levels he said his aim was not to get drunk.

"I don't binge for one or two days and I don't like getting drunk - I rarely have a hangover.

"I was a bit tipsy on the Saturday night, but not drunk.

"I don't drink at lunch times and don't worry about my current drinking patterns."

But Dr Tomson said Mark's drinking pattern suggested he could be alcohol dependent.

"This is a worrying drinking diary. He is drinking almost six times his recommended weekly limits, he never doesn't have a binge.

"He hasn't drunk under six units in one session and is probably over the drink-drive limit.

"Mark is obviously young and allegedly fit but he is probably already experiencing symptoms.

"The drinking plays a part in his tiredness and he does confess to a few feeling rotten in the mornings.

"And if he continues drinking at this level he will have significant health problems before he is 40."


Dr Tomson said Mark's liver would already show acute inflammation because of the toxins in alcohol.

One hundred and whatever units means nothing to me
Mark Foster

And he faces problems with insomnia, impotence and poor concentration, plus long-term risks of liver and pancreas damage, heart disease, raised blood pressure, some cancers and stroke.

"Ultimately he has increased risk of brain damage."

But Mark said he had been drinking regularly at these levels for about a decade and was unconcerned about future health risks.

"I am fit and healthy so don't really consider my drinking to be a problem because there is no evidence.

"I don't think the health risks mentioned will make me change.

"I suppose I will change in the future as the circumstances of my life change, but not today or tomorrow.

"When I saw the units totalled up they didn't really mean anything to me. I can't really put them into context.

"One hundred and whatever units means nothing to me."

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