It is recommended that men drink no more than three or four units of alcohol a day and women a maximum of two or three units a day. A unit of alcohol is equal to:
- a third of a pint of beer or lager (at 5 to 6% alcohol)
- half a standard (175ml) glass of wine
- a single pub measure of spirits (25ml)
- a small glass of sherry or port (50ml).
There is some evidence that a unit or two of alcohol drunk daily can help protect against heart disease, stroke and diabetes. There is no evidence that sensible alcohol consumption by people with HIV is harmful. However, there’s also some evidence that having two or more drinks a day may cause a reduction in CD4 cell counts in some people. This is probably because alcohol is an immune suppressant.
Drinking too much can make it harder for you to take your anti-HIV drugs in the right way, at the right time (this is often called ‘adherence’). Drinking too much alcohol may lead to vomiting. If you vomit within an hour of taking your HIV treatment, you should retake the dose. The increases in blood fats (lipids) that can be caused by some anti-HIV drugs can be made worse by heavy drinking.
Heavy drinking is linked to hepatitis and liver damage. It is particularly important that people with HIV take care of their liver. The liver plays an important part in your body processing anti-HIV drugs. If you also have either hepatitis B or C, drinking even a small amount of alcohol is not advisable.
Binge drinking can be harmful to general health, so don’t drink all your weekly safe allowance in one day. Remember that alcohol can contain a lot of calories, so you need to take how much you drink into account if you are trying to lose weight.
The NHS Choices website has a lot of information about alcohol, and a handy tool to help keep track of how many units you’re drinking.