R Rajendram R Hunter and V Preedy Kings College London London UK T Peters Kings College Hospital London UK

© 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

After caffeine, ethanol is the most commonly used recreational drug worldwide. 'Alcohol' is synonymous with 'ethanol,' and 'drinking' often describes the consumption of beverages containing ethanol.

In the United Kingdom, a unit of alcohol (standard alcoholic drink; Table 1) contains 8g of etha-nol. The Department of Health (United Kingdom) and several of the medical Royal Colleges have recommended sensible limits for alcohol intake based on units of alcohol. However, because the amount of ethanol in one unit varies throughout the world (Tables 2 and 3), the unit system does not allow international comparisons.

Despite these guidelines, the quantity of alcohol consumed varies widely. Many enjoy the pleasant psychopharmacological effects of alcohol. However,

Table 1 Unit system of ethanol content of alcoholic beveragesa

Beverage containing ethanol

Units of ethanol

Half pint of low-strength beer (284 ml)

1

Pint of beer (568 ml)

2

500 ml of high-strength beer

6

Pint of cider

2

One glass of wine (125 ml)

1

Bottle of wine (750 ml)

6

One measure of spirits (e.g., whisky,

1

gin, vodka)

Bottle of spirits (e.g., vodka; 750 ml)

36

aThe unit system is a convenient way of quantifying consumption of ethanol and offers a suitable means to give practical guidance. However, there are several problems with the unit system. The ethanol content of various brands of alcoholic beverages varies considerably (for example, alcohol content of beers/ales is 0.5-9.0%—a pint may contain 2-5 units) and the amounts of alcohol consumed in homes bear little in common with standard measures.

aThe unit system is a convenient way of quantifying consumption of ethanol and offers a suitable means to give practical guidance. However, there are several problems with the unit system. The ethanol content of various brands of alcoholic beverages varies considerably (for example, alcohol content of beers/ales is 0.5-9.0%—a pint may contain 2-5 units) and the amounts of alcohol consumed in homes bear little in common with standard measures.

some experience adverse reactions due to genetic variation of enzymes that metabolize alcohol. Misuse of alcohol undoubtedly induces pathological changes in most organs of the body. Some questionable data have suggested that alcohol may be beneficial in the reduction of ischaemic heart disease.

Many of the effects of alcohol correlate with the peak concentration of ethanol in the blood during a drinking session. It is therefore important to understand the factors that influence the blood ethanol concentration (BEC) achieved from a dose of ethanol.

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