Many of us love nothing more than a boozy drink at the airport to start off our holiday. Our out-of-office is on, so it’s time to celebrate – right?
This kickstarts the beginning of an intense fling with alcohol – from that beer in the airport ’Spoons, followed by a glass of wine on the flight, and a continued supply of alcohol once you’re settled at your hotel.
And for those who go all-inclusive, this boozy relationship can be amplified. People drink as much as possible because they want to get their money’s worth. But at what cost to their health?
One liver expert is extremely concerned about Britain’s relationship with “holiday booze”, warning that binge drinking for two weeks straight can be “acutely toxic to the liver” – potentially causing irreversible damage over prolonged periods of time.
Alcohol is the biggest cause of death, ill-health and disability for people aged 15-49 years old in the UK, according to national charity Alcohol Change. And it’s responsible for roughly half of all cases of cirrhosis (scarring of the liver).
The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests binge drinking consists of five or more standard measures of alcohol per day, on at least one occasion during the last 30 days.
Our bodies can only process one unit of alcohol per hour, which means those who binge drink aren’t able to process the amount of booze they’re consuming. Accidents and falls, impacted mood and memory, as well as anti-social, aggressive and violent behaviour, are just some of the risks associated with binge drinking. In the long-term, it can also cause mental health issues.
Those regularly drinking 40 standard measures or more each week have a high risk of cirrhosis, says Dr Phillip Harrison, consultant hepatologist at London Bridge Hospital. While 40 measures in a week may seem like a lot, it’s much more likely to happen on holiday when drinking often starts earlier in the day.
Examples of a standard measure of a drink:
A pub measure of spirits (35.5ml)
A small glass of wine (12.5% volume)
A half pint of normal beer
An alcopop (275ml bottle)
So, What Is Binge Drinking Doing To Our Liver?
The development of liver disease is heavily influenced by the amount of alcohol drunk, says Dr Harrison, and the pattern of drinking also plays a role in disease progression. “People who drink alcohol outside of meal times and those who binge drink have an increased risk of liver disease,” he says.
Alcohol-related liver disease can range in severity. Symptoms start off as abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fatigue, feeling sick and diarrhoea; and can progress to yellowing of the skin, swelling in the limbs, curved fingertips and nails, weight loss and muscle wasting.
“A weekly binge-drinking session increases the risk of decompensated liver disease, particularly so in overweight people, who are nearly seven times more likely to develop liver disease,” says Dr Harrison.
“People who drink alcohol outside of meal times and those who binge drink have an increased risk of liver disease.”
“Two weeks of binge drinking can be acutely toxic to the liver, as well as contributing to the development of chronic liver disease, if repeated regularly,” he adds. “Even a short period of heavy drinking can cause the liver to become fatty and inflamed.”
The good news is that the changes in the liver caused by alcohol are reversible up to the point of cirrhosis (scarring) – but it may take three to six months for an alcohol-induced inflamed liver to recover. So if you’re continuing the holiday booze-fest after you come back, it could seriously damage your health.
“There are no effective therapies to protect the liver from the damaging effects of alcohol,” says Dr Harrison. “Ideally, people should not drink alcohol every day and should not binge drink.”
For information and support on alcohol misuse, visit the NHS website.