Alcohol: common questions answered

Dr Luke Powles
Associate Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK
28 April 2022
Next review due April 2025

You might have heard that drinking alcohol isn’t good for you. But why is this? Here I’ll answer some commonly asked questions about alcohol – including exactly what the recommended weekly intake is.

person saying no to alcohol

Can alcohol cause anxiety?

Yes. Alcohol can sometimes increase your anxiety. You may have also heard the term ‘hangxiety’. This is a shortened name for hangover anxiety.

The confusing thing is that to begin with, drinking alcohol might relax you. But it can also cause you to feel nervous later on. This is because alcohol can change the way your brain works. When you drink, your brain produces more of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. This is a special chemical which helps to regulate your mood and can make you feel good.

But these effects soon wear off. This can leave you feeling more anxious than before you drank. This is why drinking alcohol is not recommended if you have a mental health condition or are prone to anxiety.

How does alcohol effect sleep?

Some people think an alcoholic drink before bed can help you to sleep. But although alcohol can make you feel sleepy, it actually disrupts your sleep quality later on in the night. So, even if you fall asleep a little quicker, it’s likely you will wake up early or have disturbed sleep.

Drinking regularly can mean you sleep poorly a lot of the time. This is linked to many different health conditions. So, having several alcohol-free days a week, and staying within your recommended weekly limit is important.

What is the recommended intake of alcohol?

There used to be a different recommended limit for men and women. Now the guidelines are the same for everyone. The Chief Medical Officer for the UK states you should drink a maximum of 14 units spread throughout the week.

It can be hard to know what this looks like, in terms of the number and size of drinks. It depends on what type of alcohol you drink. For example, 14 units could be 6 pints of beer, or 6 medium glasses of wine. This is because the wine has a higher alcohol content.

The guidelines say you should spread your alcohol across the week, over three or more days. You should also have 2-3 alcohol free days per week to give your body a break.

Are alcohol free beers healthy?

To help you stick to the recommended limits you could consider trying alcohol free options. In particular, alcohol-free beers can taste very similar to the real thing. And this may help you to enjoy social occasions without feeling you are missing out.

Alcohol free beers also tend to have less calories than regular beer too – especially if you choose the versions labelled as light. But drinking lots of them could still add additional calories to your diet. So, they should only be consumed occasionally as part of a healthy balanced diet.

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Dr Luke Powles
Dr Luke Powles
Associate Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK

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