Are you a secret binge drinker? Half of us may be
Half of us are knocking back enough alcohol to be classed as binge drinkers without even realising.
That is according to a new study which found a huge inconsistency between alcohol sales and the amount people say they drink in surveys.
When the two figures are compared, 40 per cent of sales are unaccounted for.
This suggests as many as half of all men and women in England can be classified as binge drinkers, and three-quarters of people may be drinking above the recommended daily alcohol limit.
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Health guidelines classify a binge drinker as a woman who consumes six units in a single session - the equivalent of two large glasses of wine - or a man who drinks eight units - about three pints of strong beer.
This means the millions of Brits who enjoy a boozy Saturday night or share a bottle of wine with a friend are classed as binge drinkers.
Binge drinking is most prevalent among women, those on high incomes and those living in the south of England, the study found.
And many of us are consuming far more than we realise and regularly exceed the recommended limits. Men should not regularly consume more than four units per day – the equivalent of two pints of beer – and women three units a day – less than three small glasses of wine.
A unit of alcohol is roughly equivalent to half a pint of ordinary strength beer, or nearly one small glass of wine.
The study was carried out by researchers at University College London (UCL). Using a complex computer model, academics tried to estimate the true amount of alcohol being drunk.
They based it on two sets of official data on alcohol consumption – the Health Survey for England and the General Lifestyle Survey – which covered 22,000 adults.
Lead author of the study Sadie Boniface said: “This gap between what is seen in the surveys and sales potentially has enormous implications for public health in England.”
Elaine Hindal, chief executive of alcohol education charity Drinkaware, said: “It’s not unusual for people to under-report how much alcohol they drink, whether that’s intentional or not.
“People don’t tend to understand differences in sizes and strengths of popular drinks, or might be unwilling to admit to themselves and others exactly how much they drink.
“Consumers need to be aware of the unit guidelines and how this equates to their own drinking. Nearly everyone has heard of the term ‘units’, but many people find it difficult to translate how many there are in their favourite drink.
“Using a unit calculator like MyDrinkaware can help people understand how much they’re drinking and how it’s affecting their health.”
There were 8,748 alcohol-related deaths in the UK in 2011, official figures show.
But what are the benefits of reducing your alcohol intake?
There's around 240 calories in the average pint of lager – the equivalent of a large slice of pizza or a bag of crisps.
Drinking two bottles of beer (275 calories in total) is the same as tucking into a sirloin steak, while knocking back a pint of cider at 210 calories is like eating a sugar doughnut.
And ladies, while you might have resisted the temptation to round off your lunch with something sweet, that large glass of wine after work at 195 calories is the equivalent of eating a slice of sponge cake.
Meanwhile a unit of a spirit (excluding the mixer) has the same number of calories as a Yorkshire pudding.
Drinking alcohol also reduces the amount of fat your body burns for energy.
Alcohol impacts upon our health and reducing our intake can make a huge difference to the way we look and feel on a day-to-day basis.
Aside from the well-documented long-term risks - liver damage; heart disease; cancer and type 2 diabetes - alcohol can affect fertility. Studies have shown drinking even small amounts can reduce the chance of conceiving.
Booze puts women at greater risk of breast cancer and increases some side-effects of the menopause.
Meanwhile men who regularly drink above the daily unit guidelines can suffer low energy and sexual difficulties in the short-term. Blokes are also twice as likely to develop liver cirrhosis and have nearly twice the chance of being diagnosed with high blood pressure.
Alcohol consumption can also result in a disturbed night’s sleep, leaving you feeling – and looking – washed out. And while some of us turn to alcohol to unwind after a long day it can actually make you feel more stressed because it’s a depressant.
Aside from the calories and health risks, booze can cost big bucks.
Buying a well-known brand bottle of Chardonnay from a supermarket once a week can cost £360 a year and picking up a six-pack of bottled lager to drink at home £300 a year.
If you treat yourself to a slightly pricier bottle of weekly wine at around £15 you’re spending around £720 a year, and a flashy bottle at £30 could set you back £1,440 a year.
Meanwhile a 12-pack of premium larger bought from a supermarket once a week could cost you £576 a year.
And a few glasses of wine with friends at a bar once a week could be costing you £56 a month or £672 a year, while a few pints at the pub could set you back £576 a year.
Get to grips with how much you’re drinking, the calories you’re consuming and how much it’s costing you with the Drinkaware calculator.
And find out how to start cutting down on your alcohol intake here.