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Alcohol – Consumption Trends, Health Effects and Tips


Alcohol Consumption and Trends

  • It may seem hard to believe but if you are an alcohol drinker you are in the minority. The majority of adult population worldwide abstain from alcohol.
  • UK households spend around £42 billion (€48 billion/$63 billion) on alcohol each year. To put this figure in perspective, this is approximately one third of the expenditure by the UK on national health services. The average spending by UK adults on alcoholic drinks is £17 per week. Whether this figure is high or not obviously depends on the type and price of the alcoholic beverages being bought.
  • The UK government states that binge drinking is growing and it accounts for half of alcohol consumption. Despite the term binge drinking being typically associated with the young adults, statistics show there has been a significant decrease in binge drinking by 18-24 year olds over the last decade, now accounting for less than 25% of all alcohol consumed.
  • Despite established stereotypes that alcohol expenditure increases in a recession, the opposite seems to be true. In the period 2007-2011, alcohol spending has dropped by 17%.


Alcohol Health Effects

  • Alcohol causes approximately 4% of all deaths worldwide (corresponding to roughly half the amount of deaths caused by smoking) and 5% of the global burden of disease (equivalent to that of smoking).
  • Hospital admissions as a consequence of alcohol abuse are consistently growing, hitting 265,000 (2010) in the UK alone.
  • Moderate drinking (a drink a day or less) though, is associated with a 14-25% reduction in cardiovascular disease risk, compared to those who do not drink any alcohol at all. However, these benefits appear limited to middle-aged and older adults in countries with high rates of cardiovascular disease.
  • Nonetheless, it seems that no level of alcohol consumption is risk free. Heart benefits are a proven fact but one study of over one million women, consuming just 10g alcohol a day (half a pint of beer) over a period of seven years showed a 6% increase in cancer risk. Another recently published study reported that breast cancer risk was increased at all levels of alcohol consumption but it was a hefty 40-50% higher in those women who were consuming three or more drinks a day.
  • Alcohol consumption is known to inhibit fat burning and it can promote fat storage. There is the perception that beer drinking is associated with abdominal fat gain (although this is mainly due to overeating rather than drinking beer) but not wine drinking. Wine is even thought to contain ingredients which help slimming. In fact, it is all down to the alcohol and carbohydrate content in the drink, which is usually higher in beer.


Alcohol Drinking Tips

  • Alcohol is quickest absorbed when drunk on an empty stomach and the concentration of alcohol in the beverage is between 20% and 30%. Sparkling drinks, including mixers, which are aerated with carbon dioxide also raise blood alcohol levels quicker. Food, especially fat-rich meals, result in a delayed alcohol absorption and lower blood alcohol concentration.
  • Typically 1.5 g alcohol per kilogram of weight (about 5 to 6 drinks for an 80kg man and 3 to 5 drinks for a 60kg woman) will almost always lead to some form of hangover.
  • The hangover does not just depend on the amount of alcohol you drink. Chemicals called congeners (responsible for most of the aroma and taste of alcoholic beverage) exacerbate the hangover. The clearer/purer beverages such as vodka, rum, gin, white wine and beer contain less of these substances compared to the likes of whiskey, bourbon, cognac, tequila and red wine. In one study, one third of test subjects who consumed 1.5 g/kg of body weight of bourbon (which has high content of congeners) experienced a severe hangover, but this only occurred in mere 3% of those who consumed the same amount of vodka (which is much clearer).
  • There are no cures for the hangover but rehydration with minerals, salts and vitamins may give you some benefit.


Fast Facts about Alcohol

  • The world’s oldest known recipe is for beer.
  • Despite the common belief, most wines do not improve with age.
  • White wine can be also made from red grapes.
  • One of every five glasses of wine consumed in the world is sake.
  • Typically the strongest, a drink produced by fermentation (wine or beer) can be, is 18%. Above this percentage the yeast used cannot replicate.
  • Everclear (grain alcohol) is the strongest alcoholic drink in the world with 95% alcohol content (190 proof). Above 95% the beverage will draw moisture from the air and self-dilute.
  • The term honeymoon comes from ancient Babylon. Upon the marriage of his daughter the bride’s father would give his son in law all the mead (a honey wine) he could drink for a month. This was known as the honey month.
  • Methyphobia is an intense or irrational fear of alcohol.

Where to Find Related Information:
National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Center for Disease Control and Prevention