Many people enjoy drinking alcohol and are able to use alcohol sociably without drinking to excess. Alcohol is usually used recreationally and people often have it at social gatherings and celebrations. Whether you’re indulging in just the one drink, or you are planning to consume more, having a good understanding of the effects of alcohol will help to inform your drinking. Even taking small measures to protect yourself can reduce the risk of alcohol-related injuries and health issues.

Current guidance from the Chief Medical Officer for England recommends drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol a week to be at low risk of alcohol related harm. A unit is equal to a 175ml glass of 13% wine or a pint of 4% lager, ale or cider. A unit of spirits is one 25ml measure of 40% spirit. Mixing alcohol with water, fruit juice or other soft drink does not reduce the unit value. Drinking any amount of alcohol has some risk and there is no completely safe level of drinking. To put it simply: the more you drink, the more likely it is that you will experience harm.

How does alcohol affect wellbeing?

Drinking alcohol can never be completely safe and even drinking small amounts of alcohol has its own risks. The amount of risk varies depending on lots of different factors including your current health, your state of mind, your diet and your activity before you drink.

By drinking more than 14 units a week, or more than 6 units at in one occasion (binge drinking), your risk of harm from more than 60 medical conditions is increased. Alcohol consumption is linked to dementia, cancer, cirrhosis of the liver and mental health problems as well as many other serious conditions. In the short term alcohol can also make you feel tired, nauseous and dehydrated, leading to headaches and sore muscles. Other side effects include weight gain, digestive problems, impaired sleep patterns and persistent low mood.

Alcohol is also a significant factor in other problems including drink driving, crime and anti-social behaviour. It can lead to a loss of inhibition and control, absence from work and damage to relationships, families and children.

Alcohol impairs your memory and concentration and can make you feel depressed and anxious. Although many people believe alcohol can make them feel better, these effects are often short-lived, and the end result is a further deterioration in mood. Alcohol is a depressant drug meaning it will slow down your physical responses, reduce your heart rate and impair your brain function. This will not only affect your body physically but will also affect your thoughts and feelings.

How can I improve my wellbeing?

Reducing your alcohol consumption will help you to sleep better and more effectively. By reducing drinking to low risk levels your mood will improve and your memory and ability to concentrate will be enhanced. Your balance, coordination and physical health will also be improved.

If you want to reduce your alcohol intake you can start by having several alcohol-free days a week. Stick to drinking 14 units of alcohol or less a week and spread your drinking evenly over three or more days. When you do drink alcohol, plan ahead and set yourself a limit to the number of units you’ll have. Drinking water in between alcoholic drinks and eating a filling meal before you drink will help your body to process the alcohol more effectively. Switching to lower percentage of alcohol will also help to reduce your intake.

Digital tools can be found online at NHS One You to help you monitor just how much you drink and to find out how many units are in different types of drinks.

Use the services below to find support:

Community Drug and Alcohol Team

NHS Live Well

NACOA (National Association for Children of Alcoholics)

For further signposting information on a wide range of topics please visit