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About alcohol

Units and limits

EthanolUnits are measurements of alcohol consumption and can be used to help calculate the amount of alcohol contained in a drink. However, although most of us have heard of them, surprisingly few people actually know how to calculate them

  • Your average pint of beer (4% strength) is 2.3 units, a stronger beer (5%) is 2.8 units, while a pint of strong cider (8%) is 4.5 units
  • A standard glass of red or white wine (125ml) is 2.1 units while a large glass is 3 units
  • A single shot of spirits (25ml) is 1 unit

Drinks poured at home are usually more generous and should be scored double. Also, score twice as much for extra-strength beers.

Weekly limits
As of January 2016, the first new guidance since 1995 recommends weekly intake for men is reduced from 21 to 14 units of alcohol a week. The Chief Medical Officer guidelines for both men and women who drink regularly or frequently (ie: most weeks) are as follows:

  • You are safest not to drink regularly more than 14 units per week, to keep health risks from drinking alcohol to a low level
  • If you do drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread this evenly over 3 days or more. If you have one or two heavy drinking sessions, you increase your risks of death from long-term illnesses and from accidents and injuries
  • The risk of developing a range of illnesses (including, for example, cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases with any amount you drink on a regular basis
  • If you wish to cut down the amount you’re drinking, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days each week

14 units of alcohol roughly equate to:

  • 6 pints of ordinary lager, beer or cider (at 4% strength)
  • 14 single spirit drinks (at 40% strength)
  • 7 glasses of wine (at 12% strength)

Spread your allowance
Spread your allowance throughout the week at this level and frequency of drinking is not likely to harm your health. However, people’s tolerance to alcohol varies enormously and even the recommended amounts may be too much.

Alcohol-free days
You should aim for at least 2 or 3 alcohol-free days a week. Don’t save up your allowance to blow it over one night at the weekend because it puts excessive strain on the body and liver especially.

The more you drink
The risk to your health and safety increases, the more you drink. If you drink 30+ units a week you are running the risk of liver damage, accidents and alcohol dependency. It’s not only your physical health that’s affected: your drinking could lead to social and legal difficulties, eg: drink/driving offences, problems with your friendships and relationships or the loss of your job. It’s when we’re tanked like this that we may behave badly at parties, become aggressive and argumentative and take risky decisions when it comes to sex.

No alcohol safe to drink, global study confirms

The Global Burden of Disease, a large new global study published in the Lancet has confirmed previous research which has shown that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. The researchers admit moderate drinking may protect against heart disease but found that the risk of cancer and other diseases outweighs these protections. A study author said its findings were the most significant to date because of the range of factors considered.

No alcohol safe to drink, global study confirms | BBC | 24 Aug 2018

UK’s soaring liver cancer death rate blamed on alcohol and obesity | The Guardian | 9 Jul 2023
Government not taking “appalling” harms from alcohol seriously enough | UK Parliament | 24 May 2023
Alcohol deaths in the UK rose to record level in 2021 | The Conversation | 9 Dec 2022
Alcohol deaths up almost 19% during the pandemic – the greatest increase since 2001 | The Conversation | 8 Dec 2021
'Soaring alcohol misuse' could overwhelm service BBC | 15 Sep 2020
Alcohol and your brain: study finds even moderate drinking is damaging | The Conversation | 11 Sep 2020
Two standard alcoholic drinks a day no longer safe, National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia | The Guardian | 16 Dec 2019
Public Health England and Drinkaware launch Drink Free Days | Public Health England | 10 Sep 2018
Regular excess drinking can take years off your life, study finds | BBC | 13 Apr 2018

UK Chief Medical Officers’ Alcohol Guidelines Review | DoH | Jan 2016

New alcohol guidelines: How much is 14 units? | The Independent | 8 Jan 2016
View on new alcohol limits: how much advice is too much? | The Guardian [Editorial] | 8 Jan 2016
New alcohol guidelines: What you need to know | BBC | 8 Jan 2016

Alcohol units | NHS 
Unit of alcohol | Wikipedia
What is an alcohol unit? | Drinkaware

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