The Public Health Agency (PHA) and Northern Ireland’s Drug and Alcohol Coordination Teams (NIDACTs) are urging people to keep an eye on their alcohol intake as they kick start Alcohol Awareness Week (19–25 June), emphasising the importance of knowing your units, the recommended weekly limit (to minimise risks) and the effects that alcohol can have on your health and your safety.

Kelly Gilliland, Health Improvement Manager at the PHA, said: “Many of us enjoy a drink when at home or out with friends, but what many of us don’t realise is that alcohol is a powerful drug and we need to be careful how we use it. Drinking too much can seriously affect our health.

“Many people might use alcohol to relax, but, instead of helping us to cope, excess amounts can have an immediate negative impact on our lives. In the short term, the undesirable effects of drinking too much can include vomiting and hangovers. Other, more serious risks from drinking heavily can include falls or accidents that can result in injury.

“Drinking too much can also affect our judgement, leading us to do things we wouldn’t otherwise do and that we might regret later. These can include unplanned sexual activity, fighting, or spoiling events for you, your family and friends. It is therefore important that people start to understand their drinking behaviour and explore their relationship with alcohol, whether it’s a positive or negative one. The start of this process is knowing more about units of alcohol, how to calculate your intake, and how to stay within the weekly limit.

“The alcohol guidelines recommend that both men and women should drink no more than 14 units per week. If you do drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread this evenly over three days or more. You can't ‘save up’ your units for a particular day or a party.”

Small changes can make a big difference, so the PHA is urging people to follow these simple tips:

  • learn how many units are in your chosen drink – info at pha.site/focus-alcohol
  • always look after yourself and know what your limits are;
  • have something to eat before you start drinking to slow down the absorption of alcohol;
  • alternate each alcoholic drink with a non-alcoholic drink, for example, water or a soft drink;
  • take frequent five minute breaks from drinking to give your body time to recover;
  • avoid drinking in rounds or having a kitty as this may result in you drinking more;
  • keep track of your drinks and don’t let anyone top up your drink until it’s finished;
  • if a friend does drink too much, don't leave them alone or let them wander off, rather, encourage them to rehydrate with non-alcoholic drinks; and
  • never add drugs into the mix.

    During Alcohol Awareness Week, the PHA and NIDACTs, in conjunction with the Alcohol and You Partnership, will also be launching a new tool to help plan or track your alcohol unit intake and hopefully stay within the recommended limit.

    Kelly continued: “If you would like to know more about your drinking behaviour, complete our alcohol MOT, which is available at www.drugsandalcoholni.info which may help you understand when and why you drink and if you are drinking too much and putting your health at risk.

    “If you are pregnant, or are trying for a baby, as a precaution you should not drink any alcohol at all. If you’re a parent and you’re concerned that your child may be drinking or thinking about drinking alcohol – talk to them – make it clear what your rules and expectations are. View or download 'You, Your Child and Alcohol' at pha.site/-child-alcohol for more information and advice.

    “To find out more about alcohol, visit www.knowyourlimits.info or, to get help from a professional – either for yourself or someone you care for or are concerned about, visit the ‘Services Near You’ section.”

    Visit our social media pages throughout the week (@drugsandalcoholni on Facebook and Twitter), repost/retweet our messages, and let us know what you are doing to raise awareness or address your alcohol use during Alcohol Awareness Week using the hashtag #AlcoholAwarenessNI

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