Sober October

Sober October: What does alcohol do to the body and how can you reduce your alcohol consumption?

October is an important month for those trying to reduce their alcohol intake, as ‘Sober October’ gets underway.

Founded by Macmillan Cancer Support to raise vital funds for people living with cancer, the campaign is designed to encourage social drinkers to change their drinking habits for the month and adopt healthier habits throughout the year.

In this blog, we take a closer look at how alcohol is absorbed by the body, its effects, and how reducing or quitting drinking altogether can benefit you in the short and long-term.

What happens in the body when you drink alcohol?

When a person consumes ethanol – the intoxicating agent in alcoholic drinks – it is absorbed into the bloodstream, and more than 90% of it is broken down by the liver.

How alcohol affects the body can depend on a variety of factors, including age, gender, weight, and the type of alcohol the person has been drinking i.e. beers, wines or spirits.

As the alcohol travels to different parts of the body, including the brain, it begins to affect basic functions, such as movement, breathing and temperature control.

People who continue to drink for several hours may also experience psychological effects including mood swings, reduced inhibitions, increased aggression, and paranoia.

The reduction in inhibitions can lead to increased risk-taking when a person is under the influence of alcohol.

Coupled with poor coordination, this can make individuals more prone to injuries and accidents when they have been drinking.

What are the long-term effects of alcohol on the body?

People who drink excessively over a prolonged period can develop a higher tolerance to alcohol which can be extremely dangerous, leading an individual to drink even more, and worsening the long-term effects of alcohol on the body.

There are many well-documented long-term effects of alcohol misuse – both physical and mental – which are commonly seen among heavy alcohol users.

These include:

  • Liver damage
  • Nerve and brain damage
  • Problems with the immune system
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Certain cancers

The NHS recommends that men and women drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, on a regular basis.

Binge-drinking – drinking a lot of alcohol in a short period of time – is also discouraged, as the liver can only process one unit of alcohol per hour.

Knowing the number of units in different alcoholic drinks can go a long way to helping people reduce the risks linked to heavy alcohol consumption.

The below table provides an overview of the different types of drinks and the approximate number of alcohol units in each:

Drink Number of units
Small, single shot of spirits*
*Gin, rum, vodka, whisky, tequila and sambuca
1 unit
Alcopop (275ml) 1.5 units
Small glass of wine (125ml) 1.5 units
Standard glass of wine (175ml) 2.1 units
Large glass of wine (250ml) 3 units
Bottle of lager, beer, or cider (330ml) 1.7 units
Can of lager, beer, or cider (440ml) 2.4 units
Pint of low-strength lager, beer, or cider (ABV 3.6%) 2 units
Pint of higher-strength lager, beer, or cider (ABV 5.2%) 3 units

What are the benefits if you quit drinking alcohol?

There are many short and long-term physical and mental health benefits to taking a break from alcohol or giving up drinking altogether.

The short-term benefits range from saying goodbye to those painful hangovers, to improvements in energy levels and sleep, as well as clearer skin and better mental health.

Although the longer-term benefits may take a little while to experience, depending on how much alcohol the person was drinking previously, the prospect of improved mental and physical health cannot be overlooked.

Alcohol use is linked to several serious life-altering diseases and conditions including certain cancers (bowel cancer, liver cancer), liver disease, heart disease and strokes.

Stopping drinking or cutting down can significantly reduce the risk of developing these conditions in the future.

For individuals struggling with alcohol addiction, and their families, quitting drinking alcohol altogether or reducing intake can be extremely challenging. Thankfully, there are many helpful resources available online for those who need support.   

Where can I order an alcohol test?

AlphaBiolabs is one of the UK’s leading providers of laboratory testing services for members of the public, the legal sector, and the workplace sector.

Our alcohol testing is used for a variety of purposes, from family law professionals and social workers handling child welfare cases, to members of the public looking for peace of mind alcohol testing to aid recovery, and businesses implementing drug and alcohol testing in the workplace.

We can test a variety of samples for the presence of alcohol and its metabolites, including breath, blood, hair, and nails.

We also offer alcohol monitoring devices in the form of SCRAM Continuous Alcohol Monitoring®.

Need advice on which test is best for you? Call our discreet, knowledgeable Customer Services team on 0333 600 1300 or email

You can get involved with Sober October by signing up on the Macmillan website. Please note, heavy drinkers or people who are dependent on alcohol are advised to speak to their GP before signing up to Sober October.

Alcohol testing you can trust

Find out more about our alcohol testing services.