Summer is here, and drinking cocktails al fresco is on our mind. But does drinking alcohol in the day affect us differently, or is it all psychological…? Stylist speaks to an expert to find out.
As anyone who has ever enjoyed an afternoon Aperol Spritz will attest, there is something decidedly more powerful about the effects of alcohol when you’re drinking during the daytime, rather than at night.
Whether we’re having a glass of wine with lunch during a work day, or sipping a spritz in the sunshine on holiday, our tolerance for booze definitely seems to get lower during daylight hours. This is particularly true during the summer, when the heady combination of sun and heat conspire to make us feel giddy after just one or two glasses (so perhaps it’s a good thing that this rare combination only occurs for about five days a year in the UK…)
But does alcohol really affect us differently during the day, or are the enhanced effects purely psychological? Stylist spoke to Andrew Misell, Director for Wales for Alcohol Change UK, to find out the answer.
How does drinking alcohol affect our body?
To start with, Andrew explains how does booze affects us in general, regardless of the time of day we’re drinking it.
“Alcohol has some very obvious and particular effects,” he says. “It’s a sedative and a depressant, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it makes you feel depressed, but it does slow you down.
“A small amount of alcohol can give you a feeling of wellbeing and euphoria, and make you feel more confident and outgoing. It also slows down your mental and physical reactions, meaning that you’re much less able to respond to things happening around you, but you’ll often feel more confident in doing so.”
And what happens when we drink more than just a small amount of booze?
“Some people say alcohol makes them feel angry while others say it makes them more maudlin, but it’s more accurate to say that it removes your inhibitions,” Andrew says.
The way alcohol affects us varies from person to person. Physiologically, it seems men are able to absorb more alcohol than. Tolerance also depends on your size – a big person can drink more than a smaller person – and whether you’ve eaten before drinking, as you’ll absorb alcohol more quickly if you’re drinking on an empty stomach.”
Andrew also confirms that age-old belief that we speak the truth when boozing: “Alcohol is a disinhibitor, so drinking it is more likely to bring things that you’ve been bottling up to the surface,” he says. “This could be worries or anger, or sadness about something.”
How much alcohol can we drink?
Here in the UK, men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol in a week, but Andrew is aware of how confusing that advice can be.
“No one really knows what a unit is,” he says. “Roughly speaking, there’s two and a half units in a pint of beer or cider, and about 10 units in a bottle of wine. So the guidelines are to drink no more than a bottle and a half of wine a week, but that’s not absolute. We wouldn’t say, ‘if you drink 14 units you’ll be fine, if you drink 15 units you’ll be ill’.
“Obviously as grown-ups we can all decide how much we want to drink, and when,” he continues. “But it’s always good to ask yourself whether you’ve gotten into any bad habits that you want to get rid of, and whether alcohol is getting in the way of anything else in our lives or spoiling some of our friendships or activities that we’re doing. It’s OK to stop drinking if you feel like you’ve had enough, even if your mates want to carry on.”
Why does drinking alcohol in the day seem to affect us more?
So, why does day drinking seem to affect us more than drinking during the night? Andrew believes this is a combination of three key factors…
Drinking in the day feels illicit
“Drinking in the day feels a bit like drinking in the airport,” says Andrew. “It feels like time off, and a bit irresponsible, as though we’ve skipped school and we’re being naughty. This makes you notice the effect of drinking more than you would at night.”
We do more stuff during the day
Usually if we’re drinking during the day we’ll have things to do afterwards, and the effect of the alcohol on our system can make this harder to achieve, making us feel drunker than we usually would, says Andrew. After all, we all know how much harder it is to be productive at our desks after having a drink with lunch…
Other people aren’t usually drinking during the day
“When you’re on a night out in town and other people are drinking, you don’t really realise how drunk you are,” Andrews points out. “But if you’re drunk at lunchtime and you’re surrounded by sober people heading back to the office, going shopping or heading to the gym, you’re more likely to notice your own drunkenness. In our society we tend to drink alcohol in the evenings, so we really notice it when we drink in the day.”
Ultimately, Andrew says, drinking in the day is no worse for us than drinking at night. And sadly, he confirms that there is no scientific cure for a hangover – Lucozade and a fry up might make us feel better, but they won’t do much to help. “All you can do is rehydrate your body and get as much water down you as you can,” he says. “You just have to let your body break down the toxins in the alcohol and get rid of it.”
To help lower your risk of “alcohol-related harm”, the NHS has published a number of recommended guidelines online.
• not regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week
• if you drink as much as 14 units a week, it’s best to spread this evenly over three or more days
• if you’re trying to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, it’s a good idea to have several alcohol-free days each week
The guidelines add, “Regular or frequent drinking means drinking alcohol most weeks. The risk to your health is increased by drinking any amount of alcohol on a regular basis”.
You can calculate how many units of alcohol are in a variety of different drinks using the Drink Aware unit calculator here.
If you think you or someone you know might be suffering from alcohol addiction, you can find support here.