Alcohol drinking in social gatherings and celebrations is quite common worldwide, including in Hong Kong. However, many people are unaware of the harm that alcohol does to their health. Though it has been said that a small amount of alcohol is good for the heart in certain populations, evidence on such benefit remains controversial. The key of preventing heart disease is to pursue healthy lifestyle, including healthy eating, regular exercise and no smoking.
Alcohol has both immediate and long-term effects on health. Drinking alcohol in large amount in a short period of time can lead to acute harm due to accident or violence to oneself and others. It also increases the risk of intoxication, even death. The more alcohol consumed and cumulated over time, the higher the chance of suffering from a wide range of long term illnesses such as certain cancers (including cancers of oral, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colorectum and female breasts), gastritis, gastric ulcers, liver cirrhosis, obesity, heart disease, stroke and mental illnesses. Pregnant women who drink alcohol have higher chance of giving birth to babies with birth defects, growth and developmental problems. Alcohol use is also associated with many serious social issues, including domestic violence, child neglect and abuse, and absenteeism in the workplace.
Situation in Hong Kong
The Behavioural Risk Factor Survey April 2016 reported that among people aged 18 - 64, 17.2% were regular drinkers who drank at least once a week. Drinking was more prevalent among men, 25.0% of males drank at least once a week while only 10.4% of females did so. The survey also revealed that 7.0% of people had binge drinking (consumed five or more glasses or cans of alcoholic drinks in a row) at least once a month, of which people aged 25 - 34 (9.8%) had a higher rate of binge drinking.
Make informed choices
As it is evident that alcohol produces more harm than potential health benefit, non-drinkers should not start drinking for the perceived health benefits of alcohol consumption. For those who choose to drink alcoholic beverages, limit the drink to minimise alcohol-related harm. Children and pregnant women should not drink at all. Also avoid alcohol before driving, operating machine, handling dangerous goods or vigorous exercise, and when taking medication.
To learn more about minimising alcohol-related harm, please visit our Centre for Health Protection's webpage on "Young and Alcohol Free" and the "Change for Health" website of the Department of Health.