They especially suck when you have to go to work the next day. But drinking too much alcohol does more than just make you feel horrible (after the initial buzz wears off, of course). Not only does it make you gain weight (most boozy drinks are loaded with sugar and calories); it can impair your judgement, memory and vision; make you drowsy; cause slurred speech; affect your concentration, comprehension and motor coordination; and cause balance problems. In addition, it can put extra pressure on your liver, digestive system and cardiovascular system.
In the long term, heavy drinking may increase your risk of developing life-threatening conditions like cancer, liver disease, cardiovascular disease, nerve damage and ulcers.
You know you have a drinking problem when alcohol has taken over your life and you can’t function without it. For instance, you may feel uncomfortable if alcohol isn’t available; you drink heavily when you’re upset, stressed out, disappointed or angry; you hide your drinking from your loved ones; and your financial situation, work life or relationships are suffering because of your dependence on alcohol.
That said, you don’t need to be an alcoholic (or even to get drunk) to be a heavy drinker. Many of us do drink a fair bit (okay, let’s call it what it is – binge drinking): We might have a couple of glasses of wine during a work lunch or dinner with the BF, down a few cocktails with friends on Friday nights, celebrate good news with champagne, drink rounds of mixers during happy hour, crack open the duty-free booze we bought at the airport while on holiday, and maybe settle down with an alcoholic nightcap before bedtime.
And of course, there’s Christmas and New Year, where the drinks are plentiful (because everyone who shows up to your Christmas party always brings a bottle of something) and getting drunk is, well, expected.
But just because it’s the silly season it doesn’t mean you have to drink yourself silly. Moderation is key – this is where being mindful of what you’re drinking, how much you’re drinking and how fast you’re drinking comes into play. And if you’re counting calories or looking for beverages with a lower-alcohol content (because you have too many festive parties to attend and you don’t want to overdo it at every single one), there are plenty of healthier options out there.
Our guide has everything you need to know to make better booze choices:
How much alcohol is too much?
According to HealthHub, men should drink no more than two standard drinks a day, and women, no more than one. A standard alcoholic drink is defined as a can (330 ml) of regular beer, half a glass (175 ml) of wine or 1 nip (35 ml) of spirit.
How many calories are in an alcoholic drink?
One gram of alcohol provides 7 calories (that’s just a touch less than fat!), says HealthHub. One can (330ml) of regular beer contains a whopping 158 calories; 100ml of wine, 140 calories; and one nip (30ml) of hard liquor, 89 calories.
Can you slow down the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into your system?
Some experts say yes – just don’t drink on an empty stomach. So make sure you line your stomach with food (preferably not salty food as this’ll only make you feel like drinking more) before popping open that wine bottle. Be sure to eat while drinking, too, and always alternate your alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones (water is the best), as this will keep you hydrated and minimise your chance of a hangover.
What drinks are low in calories and/or have a low-alcohol content?
You can tell a drink’s calorie content by its alcohol percentage – the higher the alcohol percentage, the higher the calories. So if you’re looking for a low calorie drink, check the label – it should have a lower alcohol by volume (ABV).
To give you an idea: Spirits like gin, tequila, and whisky are often around 40% to 50% ABV. Wine, on the other hand, is usually between 8% and 12%.
If you’re making cocktails at home or ordering something at the bar, try these smarter choices:
Shandy: A mix of beer and lemonade (ask for diet lemonade and light beer to slash the calories even further)
Wine spritzer: A mix of chilled wine and club soda
Light beer: Many big beer brands sell “light” varieties, so see what’s available. These typically have 50 less calories than their regular counterparts
Bloody Mary: Vodka, tomato juice, spices, and flavourings like Worcestershire sauce, garlic and herbs. Ask for less tomato juice to bring down the sugar content
Pinot noir: This red wine is packed with antioxidants like polyphenols and resveratrol, so it’s good for you. Stick to one glass
Scotch on the rocks: Sip it slowly so it lasts all night. Avoid the calorie-packed sugary mixers
Gin and diet tonic: Regular tonic water is high in sugar, so opt for the diet version or even sparkling water
Silver tequila with soda and lime juice: Silver tequila has less sugar than the brown variety
White wine: Go for dry white wines, such as pinot blanc, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, as these contain fewer calories than sweet versions like prosecco and riesling
Vodka soda with lemon: Ask for a mix of vodka and soda water (not tonic water) with a bit of lemon squeezed in
Mojito, without the sugar syrup: Use light rum, a teaspoon of sugar, and plenty of mint, soda water and lime juice. By skimping on the sugar you can save up to 70 calories per glass