Alcohol is never good for your health. It can also cause your body to respond badly to surgery.

Reducing how much you drink, or quitting altogether, could make a positive difference to your recovery.

An introduction to alcohol before surgery

The UK Government recommends drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol a week.

The NHS recommends spreading these units over 3 plus days, and aiming for some drink-free days as well. Regularly drinking more alcohol than these targets before surgery can lead to longer recovery times, a higher risk of complications, and more.

This table shows units of alcohol in popular drinks. The table also shows the number of calories in the drinks. It shows which snacks have equal calories.

Type Units Calories (approx)
Single spirit measure (25mls 40%) 1 unit 50kcals, or half a Milky Bar
Alcopop (275mls 5%) 1-1.5 units 172kcals, or 2 chocolate digestive biscuits
Small glass of wine (175mls 12%) 2.1 units 133kcals, or 3 Jaffa Cakes
Large glass of wine (250mls 12%) 3 units 175kcals, or 4 Jaffa Cakes
Bottle of beer (330mls 5%) 1.7 units 175kcals, or 4 Jaffa Cakes
Can of beer (440mls 5%) 2 units 240kcals, or 1 whole Mars Bar
Pint of normal lager/beer/cider (569mls 3.6%) 2 units 240kcals, or 1 whole Mars Bar
Pint of higher strength lager/beer/cider (569mls 5.2%) 3 units 250kcals, or 1 whole Mars Bar

The more you drink, the higher your risk of complications with your surgery. Cutting down your alcohol drinking by any amount will help reduce your risk. The aim should be to cut down to safe limits. Try to have alcohol free days every week.

If you think you are drinking too much, it’s important not to stop suddenly. Slowly reduce your drinking to safe limits. Ideally, your drinking will be within safe limits at least 6-8 weeks before surgery for the maximum benefit.

Drinking more than 14 units a week may mean you need more checks before your operation. These will test how well your organs, such as your liver, are functioning.

Top tips for cutting down on drinking:

  • Set limits before drinking and stick to them
  • Set yourself a budget for alcohol
  • Take it one day at a time
  • Let your friends and family know – they are likely to support you!
  • Drink smaller measures or lower alcohol alternatives
  • Make every other drink a glass of water
  • Try to have alcohol-free days every week
  • Try to drink within safe limits at least 6-8 weeks before your surgery

Drinking too much alcohol, with or without surgery planned, can cause you harm in the long term. In the run up to surgery, regularly drinking more than three drinks at a time can:

  • reduce your body’s ability to fight infection. This can make your hospital stay and recovery longer. Cutting the amount you drink will help reduce the risk. It will improve your chances of a smooth recovery.
  • weaken your heart. This makes it harder for oxygen to get around your body through the blood stream. Cutting your drinking before surgery can improve your heart’s ability to push oxygen through your body. It improves healing.
  • make it harder for your liver to deal with medication and painkillers used during your surgery. Cutting down the amount you drink helps your liver handle these drugs better. It gives you a lower chance of side effects like nausea and vomiting.

If you are struggling with your drinking, you can search for services in your area.