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
In Hong Kong, the Population Health Survey 2014/15 found that 11.1% of community-dwelling persons aged 15 years and above drank alcoholic beverages regularly (i.e. at least one day a week) in the 12 months preceding the survey. The proportions of regular drinkers were higher among males (17.3%) than females (5.4%). By age group, the proportions of regular drinkers were highest among people aged 45-54 (13.6%) and relatively lower among people aged 15-24 (4.4%) and those aged 85 and above (3.9%). The survey also revealed that 3.5% of people had an Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) total score at 8 or higher in the 12 months preceding the survey, indicating that their drinking pattern was at risk, in the harmful levels, or probably having alcohol dependence.
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 related webpage (Alcohol and Health) on the "Change for Health" website of the Department of Health.