Newspapers often run stories, and photos, about young women binge drinking. Many people still see male over-drinking as more socially acceptable.
Yet drinking too much alcohol is a huge issue for men.
In Great Britain, two out of every five men (40%) drink more than the upper reach of the daily unit guidelines of four units at least once a week. A quarter (23%) drink twice the daily unit guidelines – the definition of binge drinking.
A quarter of deaths in men aged under 34 can be attributed to alcohol, so if you thought alcohol only caused health problems later in life, you'd be mistaken.
Facts and figures
It is true that men can hold their drink better than women. That’s because men generally weigh more than women and therefore have more tissue to absorb alcohol. Men also have higher levels of alcohol dehydrogenase (AHD), the chemical that metabolises alcohol in their liver, so their body can deal with alcohol quicker.
But many men remain unaware of the long-term risks of drinking too much alcohol. Only a third (36%) are aware of the link between alcohol and some forms of cancer (including breast, bowel, kidney, mouth and oesophageal cancers). While awareness among women rose from 35% to 42% last year, the figure for men remained unchanged.
One in five men develop a drinking problem. Men are twice as likely as women to abuse or become dependent on alcohol. One in 10 men (9%) are “at risk” drinkers – someone who drinks more than 50 units a week.
Why do I enjoy drinking?Alcohol damps down activity in the central nervous system, promoting relaxation, easing anxiety and reducing inhibitions. It acts as a social lubricant, and as such plays a central role in many cultures. When in the form of beer, wine or spirits, alcohol also tastes very, very nice (at least to most people).
Drinking too much alcohol has specific health implications for men.
Beer belly: It is a myth that beer goes straight to your stomach. A 2003 study by British researchers from University College London looked at the link between the amount of beer 2,000 Czechs drank (Czechs are some of the world’s biggest beer drinkers) and the size of their stomachs. They found no link. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t make you put on weight in other parts of your body: alcohol is packed with calories. Men’s favourites – beer and cider – are the worst; a pint of either usually has between 200 and 300 calories – that’s equivalent to a bar of chocolate.
Fertility and impotence: Alcohol can reduce male fertility by lowering sperm counts and testosterone levels. One in 10 (11%) doctors blame low male fertility on alcohol. More than threequarters (80%) of men who drink heavily are believed to experience serious sexual side effects, including impotence, sterility, or loss of sexual desire. Men’s sexual performance will be harmed if they regularly drink more than the daily unit guidelines.. In the long term, they can have difficulty getting an erection.
Appearance: Excessive long-term drinking in men causes withering away of the testicles, enlargement of the breasts and loss of hair on the body. Heavy drinking can also worsen skin disorders like rosacea which causes the blood vessels in the face to expand, making your face permanently redder. It can also cause inflamed redbumps and pus spots.
Gout: An arthritic condition that causes inflammation, swelling and pain in your joints. Gout is most common in men aged 30 to 60 and is linked to drinking alcohol. A large scale study conducted at a hospital in Massachusetts, in the United States, in 2004 tracked the lifestyles of 47,150 men without gout over 12 years to see if they would develop the condition. The 730 men who did get gout drank more than those who didn’t.
Irrational behavior: Alcohol is frequently a factor contributing to violence (including a quarter of all murders) and accidents (including half of traffic deaths). One in four male hospital admissions is related to alcohol and two-thirds of suicide attempts are alcohol related. And not fogetting the beer goggle syndrome leading to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Do I need to stop altogether or just cut down?
Only you know that. Test yourself with the following questions:
- Do you ever drink above the safe limits?
- Do you ever drink to cheer yourself up?
- Do you ever feel as if you can't get through the day without a drink?
- Do you drink every day?
- Is drinking affecting or interfering with your work, relationships or social life?
- Do you think about drinking when you're not doing it?