Alcohol & Risk

The more you drink, and the more often you drink, the more likely you are to run into difficulties.

The risk of bad things happening to you, and to people around you, increases rapidly the more you drink, like this:

This curve is the same shape for the risk of:

  • breast cancer fatality
  • stroke fatality
  • road traffic casualty
  • being arrested
  • being assaulted
  • assaulting someone else.
  • overall risk of dying

The curve is the same shape, too, if we look at how drink can cause:

  • loss of friendship
  • loss of money
  • happiness

I thought red wine was good for you??

The only exception is the curve which plots how much you drink against your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). It's only a tiny difference, but when we measure the incidence of CHD in people who drink red wine, there's a tiny reduction in the risk at around the one unit a day mark. After that it goes back to the same line as all the other risks. Of course, this 'benefit' of drinking has been well publicised, and has distorted many people's perception of risk. I've met people socially, who having found out what I do for a living, explain to me, in all seriousness, that they drink 2 bottles of red wine a night (this is a bit more alcohol than half a litre of spirits) - but that that's OK because it's good for their heart.

The recommended limits about how much you can drink safely are set at around the point on the graph where there's a red line on the x axis. That is, while the risk line is slow and flat, before it starts to climb rapidly.

Take responsibility for your own risk taking

Now of course, living is about taking risks. If we knew nothing bad might ever happen to us, our lives would be very dull – you can't have excitement about the future, or make decisions about things, without taking risks. Government and scientific advice on risk is for you to weigh up and then decide what to do.

So I'm not here to persuade you that you've got a drink problem. I'm no evangelist. I'm here to give you enough information so that you can decide yourself.

Apart from anything else, until you decide for yourself, there's no chance of you succeeding in stopping.

Drink as much or as little as you like - as long as you know what that means for you.

Further reading (external sites)

Drinkaware (UK health promotion site)