Alcohol

A selection of alcoholic drinks including wine and beer

Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol can have a harmful effect on your heart and general health.

It can cause abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, damage to your heart muscle and other diseases such as stroke, liver problems and some cancers.

Alcohol is also high in calories so it can lead to weight gain.  It also lowers your inhibitions which might mean you find it harder to stick to your healthy eating plans when you have been drinking.

If you are trying to lose weight, cut down on alcohol.

How much can I drink?

If you drink alcohol it is important to keep within the guidelines:

Men should not regularly drink more than 3 - 4 units of alcohol a day.

Women should not regularly drink more than 2 - 3 units of alcohol a day.

These guidelines apply whether you drink every day, once a week or occasionally.

Most people don’t drink alcohol every day - but if you do, try having some days off – aim for at least two alcohol free days a week. Just make sure you don’t increase the amount you drink on the other days.

Drinking large amounts of alcohol in one go can cause additional damage to your body, so avoid heavy or ‘binge’ drinking – you can’t save up your units!  If you drink too much, avoid alcohol for 48 hours to allow your body time to recover.

How much is one unit of alcohol?

A unit is a measure of alcohol.  The number of units is based on the size of the drink and its alcohol strength (ABV).  The ABV (alcohol by volume) figure is the percentage of alcohol in the drink.

  • A single pub measure (25mls) of spirits (40% ABV) contains one unit of alcohol.
  • A glass (50 ml) of liqueur, sherry or other fortified wine (20% ABV) contains one unit of alcohol.
  • Half a pint (about 300mls) of normal strength (3.5% ABV) lager, cider or beer contains one unit of alcohol - be aware that many beers and ciders have a higher volume than this.
  • A standard 175ml glass of wine (13% ABV) would be 2.3 units - be aware that many wines have a higher alcohol content and the size of glasses may be bigger.

Is it true alcohol can be good for your heart?

There may be some benefits to your heart health from moderate drinking (1 or 2 units a day). However, we would not advise you to start drinking if you don't already. There are safer and healthier ways to protect your heart.

It is more important to start doing more physical activity, eat a healthy, balanced diet and to stop smoking.

Heart conditions and alcohol

I have a heart condition, is it safe for me to drink?

If you have a heart condition it is OK to drink a moderate amount of alcohol once you have recovered. 

However if you have been diagnosed with certain conditions such as some types of cardiomyopathy, it may be advisable to avoid drinking alcohol altogether. Check with your doctor for advice on whether it is safe for you to drink alcohol and how much.

If you are taking medication, check with your doctor or pharmacist about how much alcohol you can drink.

I have recently been in hospital, when can I drink alcohol again?

If you’ve recently been unwell or in hospital with a heart condition, or have undergone heart surgery, you should ask your doctor for advice on when you can start drinking alcohol again.  

If you are taking sleeping tablets or painkillers, remember that alcohol will have a more powerful effect.

Everyone should avoid drinking too much alcohol but this is particularly important if you are taking anticoagulant medication like warfarin.  Too much alcohol can interfere with the blood clotting process, so if you do drink alcohol it is better to have just a small amount regularly. Your anticoagulant clinic will be able to advise you on this.