What's the harm in a bottle of beer after work, a glass of red wine in the evening or a tot of whisky while watching TV? Many people enjoy drinking alcohol after a hard day's work. It's supposed to relax the body and make us feel stronger and happier, but this mood-enhancing effect can also lead to increased consumption. According to the Federal Office of Public Health, one in five people in Switzerland occasionally or regularly drinks too much. But how much is too much? A new campaign («Alcohol changes perceptions») examines the issue of excessive consumption and provides important information about the effects of alcohol.
How much alcohol an individual can consume without suffering long-term adverse health impacts depends on a range of factors, the key ones being age, weight and gender. Men have a higher alcohol tolerance than women because men's bodies contain a higher percentage of water. That's the reason why women are generally more sensitive to alcohol. The Federal Office of Public Health recommends the following limits:
- Healthy adult males should not drink more than two or three standard units of alcohol per day.
- Healthy adult females should not drink more than one or two units per day.
- One unit is equivalent to 0.3 litres of beer (containing 4.5% alcohol), 0.1 litres of wine (12%) or 0.03 litres of spirits (40%). It's worth noting, however, that there is considerable variation in the alcohol content of all types of drink.
- You should always have at least two alcohol-free days per week to ensure that you don't become alcohol-dependent and to give your body time to recover.
The effects of alcohol – and how long they last
Alcohol affects how we behave and how we perceive reality. As already mentioned, it can make us relaxed, but it can also stimulate us, cause us to lose our inhibitions and produce feelings of euphoria. It normally takes about an hour for alcohol to have its full effect, but it takes much longer to wear off. The body needs about 12 hours to break down a blood alcohol level of 1.2 mg/ml. That's equivalent to about six units for a man or four units for a woman.
When alcohol becomes a problem
For men, the critical point generally arrives when they have consumed five standard units of alcohol; for women it's four units. Medically speaking, this is when intoxication kicks in. The drinker's ability to react, make judgements and control his actions is impaired and he may experience difficulties with concentration and coordination. Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to severe brain damage and the impairment of mental faculties.
More facts and figures
You can find out more about alcohol at www.alcohol-facts.ch, and there's also a quiz to help you find out how much you already know. It features a number of useful links and contacts if you have questions about any aspect of alcohol consumption.