Alcohol is a drug and comes in many forms, including beer,
cider, wine, and spirits such as whisky, gin and vodka, as well as premixed
drinks such as ‘alcopops'.
Alcohol is legally available in the UK from licensed
outlets to people aged over 18 years and is enjoyed and used safely by many
people. However, alcohol is also a major cause of health and social problems
and, after tobacco, causes more deaths in the UK than any other drug.
Alcohol relaxes the brain and body, and is normally drunk
for its pleasant effects. Because of its power to alter mood and cause physical
changes in your body, it can also lead to physical and psychological health
problems as well as social problems.
Health agencies recommend that men should not drink more
than three to four units of alcohol per day. For women, the daily
limit is two to three units. This advice applies regardless of whether
you drink daily, weekly or somewhere in between. You can use this ‘unit calculator’ on the NHS Choices website
to find out how many units there are in different types of alcohol.
Many people find that moderate drinking (a unit or two of
alcohol per day) helps relieve stress, encourages relaxation and acts as an
appetite stimulant. However, drinking all your weekly limit in one session
(often called binge drinking) can lead to poor co-ordination, vomiting,
exaggerated emotional reactions (including sadness, tearfulness, anger and
aggression), a reduced sex drive, and can even cause unconsciousness. Women who
are pregnant, or planning to become so, are advised to drink no more than one
to two units per week.
A hangover the next day – headache, dry mouth,
feeling sick and tired – is a very common consequence of heavy drinking the
night before. These effects are caused by dehydration and toxicities, so if you
drink alcohol, you should drink plenty of water as well.
As even small amounts of alcohol can have an effect on
your co-ordination, reactions and judgments, you should never drink even small
amounts of alcohol and then drive or operate machinery.
Extremely heavy drinking can lead to coma and even death.
Long-term heavy alcohol consumption (ten or more units a
day in a man, or six or more in a woman) can cause ill health, affecting the
liver, heart and brain. Drinking every day can also lead to physical and
psychological dependence on alcohol.
In addition, people who drink heavily often don't eat well
and this can cause further health problems.
Alcohol is a depressive drug and can cause or make worse
mental, psychological or emotional problems. Used in conjunction with other
drugs, such as over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol, alcohol can have
more serious effects.
What about alcohol and HIV? There is no evidence that moderate drinking
(a unit or two of alcohol a day) does any harm to people with HIV. However, in
some situations, you may be advised to cut down your alcohol consumption or
stop drinking alcohol altogether.
Heavy drinking can affect your immune system and may slow
down recovery from infections.
Heavy alcohol use can have potentially serious
consequences for people taking anti-HIV drugs. Alcohol is processed by the
liver and a healthy liver is necessary for the body to process medicines
effectively. The blood fat increases caused by some anti-HIV drugs can be made
worse by heavy drinking. And drinking too much can make it harder for you to remember
to take your drugs in the right way, at the right time (this is often called
People whose liver has been damaged by drinking too much
alcohol (especially if they have hepatitis) are more likely to experience
side-effects from anti-HIV drugs, particularly protease inhibitors.
Alcohol can react badly with certain medicines (for
example some anti-TB drugs and some antibiotics), so it is a good idea to check
with your pharmacist whether it is safe to drink alcohol with any new medicines
you may be prescribed. However, there is no significant interaction between any
of the currently available anti-HIV drugs and alcohol.
Alcohol can cause vomiting. If you vomit within an hour of
taking a dose of your anti-HIV drugs or any other medicine you are on (or less than four hours if you are taking Eviplera or rilpivirine), or if you see the pills, or remnants of
them, in the vomit.,
you should retake the dose.
People who have hepatitis as well as HIV are advised not
to drink alcohol at all, or to keep alcohol consumption to an absolute minimum.
Even moderate alcohol consumption – as little as one or two drinks a day – has
been shown to increase the risk of serious illness and death for people with
chronic hepatitis C infection.
If you are concerned about your drinking, speak to a
member of your healthcare team, who will be able to direct you to somebody who
Alcohol Concern, one of the
UK's largest alcohol charities, has information and a directory of services at www.alcoholconcern.org.uk/concerned-about-alcohol, or
phone Drinkline on 0800 917 8282 (weekdays 9am to 8pm, weekends 11am to 4pm).
More information on Scottish support services is online at the DrinkSmarter website, or you can contact Drinkline in Scotland on 0800 7 314 314 (8am
to 11pm, 7 days a week).