Sun and sangria – a guide to sensible drinking this summer

Dr Martin Phillips, Consultant Gastroenterologist at Spire Norwich Hospital. Picture: Contributed

Dr Martin Phillips, Consultant Gastroenterologist at Spire Norwich Hospital. Picture: Contributed - Credit: Archant

Dr Martin Phillips, Consultant Gastroenterologist at Spire Norwich Hospital, talks to about the hazards of excessive drinking and how to be safe during long and lazy summer days.

Government guidelines changed recently and recommend no more than 14 units of alcohol per week for m

Government guidelines changed recently and recommend no more than 14 units of alcohol per week for men and women. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Summer holidays, barbeques, warmer weather and alcohol all seem to go hand in hand. The summer generates far more opportunities for people to over-indulge and consume more than the recommended daily alcohol limits. With an already dehydrated body, the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption may be greater throughout the summer, so it is essential to enjoy alcohol in moderation.

The warmer weather can speed up the effects of alcohol dehydration and alcohol consumption in hot weather can actually lead to both heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Remember too that it's not just a hangover you should worry about after drinking, the long-term affects on your health can be significant.

There is no doubt we have a major problem with alcohol in this country. Admissions to hospital due to alcoholic liver disease have doubled in the last 10 years. Deaths from alcoholic cirrhosis are also rising rapidly.

Patients who do succumb are younger than before and more commonly female. Sadly, within the recent past I have treated a 24-year-old woman who died from alcohol-related health problems and a 19-year-old woman who turned yellow due to liver failure caused by advanced liver disease.

Fortunately, the vast majority of us are able to drink both in moderation and a socially acceptable manner. The government guidelines changed recently and recommend no more than 14 units of alcohol per week for men and women (1 unit is equivalent to half a pint of ordinary strength beer, or one standard size glass of normal strength wine).

However, in England there are 14 million people who drink more than these guidelines suggest and are potentially putting their health at risk as a direct result. This can result in a wide range of health problems from high blood pressure, depression and anxiety disorders through to heart, pancreas or liver disease and increased risk of many cancers including breast, stomach and bowel.

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For many of our European counterparts alcohol is taken in small amounts throughout the day. Indeed, alcohol consumption in conjunction with high intakes of fruit and vegetables, may well explain the so-called 'French paradox''.

The French diet is considered to be very high in fat, especially saturated fat, yet the death rate from coronary heart disease remains relatively low. It is thought this is at least partly due to people's consumption of red wine.

Sadly, in the UK, binge drinking is more common. England boasts nearly six million binge drinkers. Binge drinking is a concept largely created by the popular press and is difficult to define, but is usually taken to mean very heavy drinking sessions on a Friday and Saturday night by young men and women.

The level of alcohol consumption in a population is closely linked to its availability and affordability. In this country, alcohol is now more widely available than ever before with 24-hour shopping and extended licensing hours.

Although the price of alcohol increases with each budget, our incomes are generally rising faster meaning alcohol is relatively cheaper and more affordable than ever. As a result of these factors, alcohol consumption is increasing rapidly in Britain.

Drinking brings with it special problems associated with acute severe intoxication. Most of us will recognise the various stages of drunkenness from happy and talkative, to slurring of speech, poor co-ordination and vomiting.

At higher blood alcohol levels the usual self-protective reflexes (such as the gag reflex) are lost and the person drifts into unconsciousness. At this point the individual is at risk of death, particularly from inhaling their own vomit, or hypothermia if they are outside.

There are many other hazards including heart problems such as palpitations, head injuries and broken bones due to falling, fighting or accidents. In addition, in a large proportion of sexual assaults, serious crimes and murders at least one individual involved is drunk.

Avoid drinking on an empty stomach – eating before or during drinking reduces the rate of alcohol absorption from the stomach. Make sure you tackle the obligatory barbeque burger or sausage before you start with the alcohol. Barbeques refusing to light and food taking a little longer to cook than anticipated is a customary hazard of our summer gatherings.

If you start drinking too quickly, too early and at a high pace you are putting yourself at risk. Try accepting soft drinks between your alcoholic beverages and remember if you're driving the affect of alcohol on a dehydrated body is greater.

Also, avoid drinking in rounds as this may speed up the frequency of your drinking pattern. It's probably worth thinking about how much you intend to drink before going out too, and stop drinking when you reach the number of drinks you have allowed.

Lastly, if you are worried that you may have a drink problem, go and talk to your GP or the community alcohol services available throughout the region… enjoy your summer safely!

The content of this page is provided for general information only. It should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional.

For further information regarding Consultant Gastroenterologist Dr Martin Phillips, please visit and click on his consultant profile.