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Most people will drink alcohol or try drugs at some point in their lives. It might be something you do around friends to be sociable or to cope with difficult feelings.

At first it may seem like fun but substance use can start to take over your life and give you far more problems than it solves.

Understanding alcohol and units

A few drinks with friends can be a good laugh but having lots of alcohol on a regular basis has massive downsides - and we're not just talking hangovers and empty wallets! Drinking too much can have serious effects on both your physical and mental health.

That's why it's important to understand how units work and the effects that alcohol can have on your body and mind.

One unit of alcohol is around 10ml of pure alcohol. It takes the average adult around an hour to process a unit, so it'll be 60 minutes before the alcohol has left your bloodstream.

So what does one unit look like?

  • Around a third of a pint of regular strength cider
  • Just over half a small (125ml) glass of wine
  • A shot (25ml) of vodka, whiskey or other 40% proof spirit
  • Around half a pint of regular strength beer
  • One standard sized bottle of alcopop

And how much should you be drinking?

  • For men, it's recommended that you drink no more than three to four units a day.
  • For women, it's recommended that you drink no more than two to three units a day.

Wine glass on side full of corks

How drugs and alcohol affect your mental health

If you're feeling anxious or depressed, drinking alcohol or taking drugs might temporarily relieve your negative thoughts and feelings but in the long term, substance use often magnifies the problem, creates new issues and generally makes life much more complicated. You might also find yourself consuming higher quantities of drugs or alcohol on a more regular basis.

Substances can also change or reduce certain chemicals in the brain, sometimes leading to symptoms of depression, schizophrenia and anxiety. These side effects can give you the urge to take more drugs in order to feel better and block out negative symptoms. Before you know it, you're in a vicious cycle that can be really difficult to escape.

Top tips for staying safe

When you're out drinking, make sure you're with somebody you know and trust

  • Monitor how much you're drinking, using or spending by completing a Substance Use Diary. It'll help you keep track of things and stay within your limits
  • If you're finding it difficult to stop drinking or using drugs, try filling out an Advantages / Disadvantages worksheet to increase your motivation to make changes
  • Are there certain things or particular situations that might make you more likely to drink or use drugs? Once you've identified these, it's much easier to avoid them
  • If you feel as though you're craving alcohol or drugs, remember that cravings only last a few minutes. Tell yourself: "This will pass, it's only temporary."