Health & Life How to Survive Party Season; Having a Merry Christmas? but How Much Booze Will You Be Drinking over the Festive Period? Women's Editor DIANE PARKES Reports

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THE very words 'Merry Christmas' raise a snigger as we down a few glasses of wine, a couple of bottles of beer, some spirits and mixers and an after dinner coffee laced with brandy.

Christmas is a time when everyone wants to let their hair down, have a few drinks and have some fun. Fine, in moderation, but sometimes it is worth stopping and thinking about our attitude towards alcohol.

Nobody is suggesting that because you down a few extra over Christmas you are heading for cirrhosis of the liver - but sometimes it pays to focus on what could be a pattern of heavy drinking which comes under the spotlight during a binge.

Health warnings change faster than the wind but research suggests 14 units a week is a safe limit for women and 21 for men.

The same amount of alcohol will affect a woman more than a man because men have a higher body water content which means the alcohol becomes more diluted in their bodies.

But to most of us the idea of a unit is too vague.

Weekly limit

Very few people actually know how many units are in each drink they consume. Even if we understand the unit system, how many of us will then register how many we have drunk in one night, let alone a week?

And what is a unit? Put back half a pint of ordinary beer or cider, one glass of wine or sherry or a measure of spirits and you have swallowed one unit. So take a couple of glasses of wine with dinner each night and a woman will be at the weekly limit.

Even then the figures are only approximate. Make it a larger glass with the wine having a higher alcohol content and these figures are immediately skewed. Beers particularly come in a range of strengths so the amount which can be drunk needs to take into account the alcohol content of the drink.

Cramming all those units into one or two nights is even more dangerous than spreading alcohol consumption across a week. Government guidelines have moved from weekly to daily recommendations. …