You’re young, you’re free and you’re determined to enjoy yourself. In British culture socialising and alcohol are heavily entwined, and never more so than during your student days. Pubs, bars and clubs clamour for your business, offering cheap drinks that quickly vanish down the throat. After all, when strong alcoholic drinks are sometimes cheaper than non-alcoholic alternatives, it can be difficult not to over-indulge.

However the physical and mental effects on your body aren’t just limited to a few hours’ worth of hangovers but can have much more serious implications. As alcohol affects your ability to make sensible decisions, it’s easy to make mistakes that you later regret. But these can vary from the embarrassment of kissing someone in your halls to making the potentially deadly decision to lie down outside in the cold. So it’s important to be aware of the dangers.

How much is too much?

The government advises a maximum of 3-4 units a day for men and 2-3 units for women. This is nothing to do with how much each gender can ‘take’, but rather the natural difference in physique. Many other factors will determine how alcohol affects you, such as body weight and metabolism, so don’t try and keep up with others.

Saving up your units to ‘spend’ on a big night out doesn’t count. Binge drinking is a significant problem amongst young people in the UK, and leads to a whole host of social problems, from anti-social behaviour to risky sexual behaviours.

With student nightlife centred around drinking, most students will drink more alcohol than is recommended. The key is to drink responsibly; aim to have a good time without sacrificing your health or safety. Learn to monitor your own intake and that of your friends. Know when you’ve had enough and don’t drink yourself into a state where you can’t function properly.

How many units are there in different drinks?

  • A pint of average-strength lager (ABV 4%) – 2 units
  • A single measure of spirits (ABV 37.5%) – 1 unit
  • A glass of wine (ABV 12%)
    • 125ml (small)  – 1.5 units
    • 175ml (medium) – 2 units
    • 250ml (large) – 3 units
  • A bottle of alcopop (ABV 5.5%) – 1.5 units

Units will vary as the percentage of alcohol varies. Make sure that you’re aware of the strength of your drinks, as some can differ greatly from the expected norm. For more information click here.

Aren’t some drinks better than others?

The simple answer is no. The harmful effects are associated with the alcohol content of what you drink in total. It doesn’t matter what you drink, but how much. Beer is no safer than spirits, particularly when you’re drinking in excess of 5 pints.

Is mixing drinks worse for you?

At some point in your drinking life you’ll probably have a conversation about whether it’s worse to mix different types of drink, or even drink them in a specific order. It even comes with its own little ditty, ‘Beer before wine makes you feel fine…’ or is it the other way around?

However, there’s no medical evidence to suggest that order of drinks has an additional effect on how alcohol affects you. It’s the total amount of alcohol consumed in relation to your body type that will determine how drunk you get.

However the use of alcohol and energy requires caution. When you’ve drunk too much your body will start to shut down, telling you it’s time to go to bed. When mixed with alcohol, though, energy drinks mask how your body feels and can hide the negative effects of alcohol. When both wear off they’ll leave you and your body to face the consequences.

How long should I leave between drinking?

If you drink in moderation, rather than trying to imitate the lifestyle of drunken Dave who hasn’t been sober since Fresher’s week, then you can partake every day. However after a heavy session you should ideally give your body 48 hours to recover.

What’s the best way to deal with a hangover?

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes you dehydrated. For every pint of alcohol you drink your body loses 1.25 pints of water. The more you drink, the more dehydrated you become and the worse you feel the next day. Despite any advertisements, the only way to deal with dehydration is to hydrate.

You should ideally try and drink water throughout your evening. However, if this doesn’t happen, the best time is before you go to sleep. If you forget completely you’re sure to feel it. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and take pain-killers if necessary. Alcohol can often lead to a bad night’s sleep, so get an early night.

What are the dangers of drinking?

The cumulative effect of excessive alcohol consumption is particularly dangerous when accompanied by a poor diet. Sound familiar? Although the key word here is cumulative as damage is done to the liver and nervous system over a lifetime. Therefore it’s important to address your drinking (and eating!) habits early, before you begin a lifetime of alcohol dependency.

How can I tell if I have a problem?

It’s likely that a large proportion of your time as a student will probably be spent in the pub, so you need to learn to be responsible for your own alcohol intake. If you find you are drinking regularly to escape problems, begin to experience blackouts or notice a drastic change in personality as a result of drinking, then you may have a problem. If you think you may have a drinking problem then contact your doctor for help.

Alcohol can be used safely as an enjoyable part of university life, but drink responsibly to make sure that it doesn’t have a negative impact on your fun.