independent advocate reducing alcohol harm

Low-Risk Guidelines

As well as affecting your health and ability to cope and to perform to the best of your ability, alcohol can impact on your weight, looks and sleep. The Department of Health and Health Service Executive (HSE) have low-risk weekly guidelines for alcohol consumption for both men and women.

There is no “safe” amount of alcohol. Drinking any amount of alcohol increases the risk of damage to your health and that risk generally increases in line with how much you drink. Binge drinking is associated with additional health risks.

Excessive drinking can lead to a wide range of medical conditions, from relatively minor issues to more serious illnesses, such as high blood pressure, liver disease, stroke, cancer and even brain damage.

Those under the age of 18 should avoid alcohol altogether. Far from being a rite of passage, drinking alcohol may well serve to delay the development of vital coping, personal and social skills; project young people into risky situations and lay the ground-work for future physical and mental health difficulties.

For adults, the recommended low-risk limits for alcohol consumption are:

Men: 17 standard drinks (=170 grams (or 210 mls) of pure alcohol), spread out over the course of a week, with at least two to three alcohol-free days.

Women: 11 standard drinks (=110 grams (or 140 mls) of pure alcohol), spread out over the course of a week, with at least two to three alcohol-free days.

You can find out how many standard drinks – and how many calories – you consume when drinking with this drinks calculator.

How does alcohol affect me?

From the very first sip, alcohol starts affecting your body and mind. Individual reactions to alcohol vary and are influenced by many factors, including age, gender, physical condition (weight, fitness etc), how quickly you drink, the amount of food eaten before drinking and many other factors.

Some of alcohol’s effects disappear overnight or the next day, while others can stay with you a lot longer or become permanent. The intensity of the effect of alcohol on the body – and your behaviour – is directly related to the amount consumed.

If you’ve drunk heavily the night before, you’ll almost certainly wake up with a hangover. Alcohol irritates the stomach, so heavy drinking can cause sickness and nausea, while alcohol also has a dehydrating effect, which is one reason why excessive drinking can lead to a severe headache the morning after.

Drinking too much, too often, can cause new health problems and worsen existing conditions. Alcohol can increase the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease and a number of cancers, as well as many other serious illnesses and mental health problems.

As well as the health risks, alcohol affects us in many other ways, such as our appearance (particularly our skin) and our weight, while excessive drinking can have a detrimental effect on our relationships with family members and friends, as well as our ability to manage our finances and perform well in work.