Sensible drinking

The Department of Health has broken down alcoholic drinks into units, based on the amount of alcohol present. This makes it much easier to tell how much alcohol you are consuming, as drinks can have very different strengths.

Units of alcohol are a measure of the volume of pure alcohol in an alcoholic beverage. They are used as a guideline for alcohol consumption. A unit of alcohol is equivalent to 10ml of pure alcohol. For example, approximate measures of units are shown below:

Beer: A half pint (284ml) of beer with 3.5%ABV contains almost exactly one unit; however most beers are stronger. In the UK, beer generally ranges from 3.5%-5.5 ABV and continental lagers start at around 5% ABV. A pint of such larger (for example, 568ml at 5.2%) contains almost 3 units of alcohol rather than the quoted 2 units.

Spirits: Most spirits sold in the UK have 40% ABV or slightly less. In the UK a single pub measure (25ml) of a spirit contains one unit; however a larger 35ml measure is standard in Northern Ireland which contains 1.4 units of alcohol.

Wine: A medium glass (175ml) of 12ABV wine contains around two units of alcohol. However in British pubs and restaurants they often supply larger quantities (large glass = 250ml), which contains 3 units. Red wine may have higher alcohol content (on average 12.5% sometimes up to 16%).

Alcopops: Most alcopops contain 1.4-1.5 units per bottle. For example, a normal 275ml bottle of WKD contains 1.4 units, whereas Bacardi Breezer and Smirnoff Ice contain 1.5 units of alcohol.

Sensible drinking guidelines are recommended for healthy people over the age of 18:

Men: No more than 3-4 units per day
Women: No more than 2-3 units per day

If these guidelines are exceeded on any day people should give their bodies 48 hours to recover. A person should have at least one alcohol-free day per week. If a person keeps to these guidelines there are no significant risks to their health. If a person regularly exceeds these there is an increasing risk to their health.

Binge drinking

Binge drinking happens when a person drinks too much alcohol in one sitting. This increases health problems and other risks associated with alcohol.

Binge drinking is determined by:
Men: Drinking over 10 units of alcohol
Women: Drinking over 7 units of alcohol

Page last updated:23 December 2014