Worried that your liver has taken a battering this World Cup? You’re not the only one
A few days ago I woke up feeling strange. My eyelids were like two cartoon anvils, my stomach felt simultaneously bloated, cavernous and angry – like a balloon full of wasps, and as far as cognitive health was concerned: I got not one but two incorrect buses to work and each time it took me 20 minutes to notice. I ate a lot of jelly (why?) while my moods swung between uncontrollable laughter and that gag-inducing anxiety you get when you reach for your phone and it isn’t there. Initially I just assumed it was a fun new sign of ageing, but then I ran the numbers and it turns out that, since the beginning of June, I have consumed over one hundred pints. Almost two. Two hundred pints. And I don’t even like football. Plus I’m Welsh. So I can’t even imagine the state of the rest of you.
The vast majority of the UK has, for the first time since 1976, been experiencing a prolonged period of warmth and sunshine known to more temperate European countries as “summer”. This – combined with the annual televised snogging competition that is Love Island and England doing better than expected in the World Cup – has plunged everyone into frenzy. Brits can’t have nice things, you see. We can’t be trusted. We crush elation in our desperate hands like Lennie crushes Curley’s in Of Mice And Men. Sadness and disappointment we’re used to, but as soon as hope enters the equation we go instantly ballistic, forget what water is and start bastardising Atomic Kitten songs from the millennium.
Footie and lager go together like Chaz and Dave. One of the sport’s finer celebratory traditions is chucking a pint in the air after a goal. When England played Sweden last week, statistical experts estimated a combined total of 100,000 pints went up in the air. As for those that made it into mouths, the number of pints fans were expected to neck during the semi-final against Croatia was… 41 million. So, on the one hand: where is our collective Pride of Britain award please? On the other: bloody hell.
How to figure out your own pint intake
I calculated my own personal pint intake by simply guesstimating the number of pints or equivalent that I’ve consumed every day on average (5), and then multiplying that by the number of days I have been On It (37). 5 x 37 = 185. There were days where I consumed no pints, but there were also days I consumed 9. So there’s a bit of give and take. Once you’ve decided upon an average that your tattered soul confirms to be about right, apply it to the formula and then stare out of the nearest window for 45 minutes wondering how you’re still alive.
“It’s been a long tournament and people may have found themselves drinking more than they normally would,” says Ben Butler, Director of Content & Communications at UK alcohol education charity Drinkaware. Butler says that men and women who regularly drink alcohol in excess of the low risk guidelines of 14 units (about 7 pints or glasses of wine), may notice short term impacts such as weight gain, interrupted sleep, and dodgy skin.
“Drinking this way in the long term can increase the risk of serious illness, such as heart and liver disease and cancer,” Butler warns.
But what about just a month of heavy drinking?
For the last month, Drinkaware has been tweeting footy-related advice and guidance, reminding people to pace themselves, eat properly, alternate between alcohol and water, avoid drinking in rounds, and all those other sensible things that tend to go out the window the minute you’ve knocked back a Heineken. Drinking huge quantities of alcohol within a short space of time – say, 90 minutes – can carry a whole bunch of risks ranging from breathing problems to brain damage. But what about drinking a few of pints every day over a prolonged period of time – say, the length of an international football tournament? What if you didn’t go super hard for a weekend in order for “it” to come home, but did give it a bit of oomph for a month on the trot?
If this describes you, you probably don’t feel too terrible right now. You may have snuck a day or too off due to World Cup Fever, but by and large you feel fine – good, even. You’ve been getting out more, socialising, producing higher levels of vitamin D, laughing, maybe also crying but directly into the bosom of your best mate so it’s fine, it’s fine. All in all, a welcome retreat from the relentless dirge of winter. But Butler warns that while alcohol can have a temporary positive impact on your mood, in the long term it can cause problems for your mental health.
“This is because alcohol disrupts the balance of chemicals in your brain that affect mood. Also, even a couple of pints can affect the quality of your sleep, leading to irritability and mood swings,” he says.
Dr. Sarah Jarvis MBE, Clinical Director at Patient.info also tells me that “alcohol acts as a depressant on the brain, and regular drinking for any period of time increases the risk of depression and anxiety. Tie this in with raised adrenaline linked to World Cup games (especially disappointments) and the chance of violent outbursts is much higher.”
Alcohol low risk guidelines are the same for men and women, but for different reasons. The effects of increased drinking would be different for me – a 5ft 3, 120 lb gnome – than for someone with a larger corporeal form. Yes, the average man weighs more than the average woman. Yes, this means you have more tissue to absorb alcohol and have a proportionally lower ratio of fat to water than women. And yes, this means you’re more able to dilute alcohol within the body and as such end up with a lower concentration of alcohol in your blood. Does this mean men get less pissed? No, it absolutely does not. It simply means men drink Even More Pints. As a result, men tend to experience more alcohol related harm and a higher risk of alcohol-related injury in the short term compared to women. Plus it affects your junk.
So what should I do next?
“A lot of men might be surprised to learn that heavy drinking can affect their ability to have children,” Butler adds, “Regularly exceeding the daily unit guidelines can destroy the sperm-producing cells in the testicles and affect sperm quality. As well as risking infertility, drinking to excess also harms sexual performance with impotence and loss of sexual desire.”
What has happened is, as a nation, we absolutely lost it. We became like those people in Strasbourg who danced themselves to death in the 1500s because it was roasting for a few months. We have somehow packed several decades worth of hedonism into four weeks. But now the World Cup is almost over and there are storms forecast, I have done the maths on how to handle things from here, and the answer is: go to bed. For the love of god, just go to bed.
Jarvis confirms that “unless you’ve been drinking extremely heavily, stopping or cutting down on drinking doesn’t carry major risks and could bring mental and physical benefits” – that’s brighter skin, feeling less tired and more able to concentrate – “within days.” So there you go. Return to your home, get back on top of your skincare routine, and remember what it was like to feel hydrated.
Everyone. Bed. Now.
(Pics: freepik.com, Alice Griffiths)