Are you drinking too much alcohol? Four physical signs to spot

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A tipple now and then is one of life’s simple pleasures but Christmas tends to encourage excess. Drinking too much does not only result in an awful hangover – it can also cause physical problems. Over time, this can undermine your quality of life and pose grave health risks.

Regularly drinking too much alcohol can damage your nerves, and affect the levels of messenger chemicals (neurotransmitters) in your brain.

This can give rise to a host of physical problems, one of the worst being the development of Wernicke’s encephalopathy.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a neurological disease that develops if a person’s brain doesn’t get enough thiamine (vitamin B1).

“Physical symptoms include problems with moving your eyes, vision and muscle coordination,” warns Bupa.

The health body continues: “You may find it difficult to walk and feel unsteady.”

Other symptoms include:

  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Lack of interest
  • Feeling confused.

Other complications of drinking too much alcohol stem from liver damage.

Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) refers to liver damage caused by excess alcohol intake.

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According to the NHS, ARLD does not usually cause any symptoms until the liver has been severely damaged.

When this happens, symptoms can include:

  • Feeling sick
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
  • Swelling in the ankles and tummy
  • Confusion or drowsiness
  • Vomiting blood or passing blood in your stools.

“If you regularly drink alcohol to excess, tell your GP so they can check if your liver is damaged,” advises the NHS.

How to reduce the risk of alcohol misuse

“Taking regular breaks from alcohol is the best way to lower your risk of becoming dependent on it. If you drink regularly, your body builds up a tolerance to alcohol,” warns uK-based charity Drinkaware.

The charity explains: “Tolerance is a physiological response we have to any drug: the more you consume, the more your body needs to have the same effect.”

As it points out, “breaking” your drinking cycle is an important way to test for – and tackle – this kind of dependence.

How much should we drink?

To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, all UK adults are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week.

A unit of alcohol is 8g or 10ml of pure alcohol, which is about:

  • Half a pint of lower to normal-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6 percent)
  • A single small shot measure (25ml) of spirits (25ml, ABV 40 percent).

A small glass (125ml, ABV 12 percent) of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol.

The idea of counting alcohol units was first introduced in the UK in 1987 to help people keep track of their drinking.

Units are a simple way of expressing the quantity of pure alcohol in a drink.

One unit equals 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol, which is around the amount of alcohol the average adult can process in an hour.

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