Proposed new guidelines recommend that you should not regularly drink more than 14 units over the course of a week. If you do drink as much as 14 units, you should spread it over three days or more, rather than 'saving up' units.
An easy way to cut back on your intake is to have several drink-free days each week.
European law requires manufacturers to state on the label of all alcoholic drinks how much alcohol they contain. This is expressed as ‘percentage alcohol by volume’ (% ABV). Some brands also give the number of units of alcohol the drink contains on the packaging.
One unit is equal to 10ml by volume or 8g by weight, of pure alcohol. This is the amount of alcohol an average adult can process in one hour.
The number of units of alcohol in different drinks varies. It’s also rare that the usual measure your drink comes in will contain just one unit. Here are some common drinks you might order at the bar and how many units they contain.
- One 25ml single measure of spirit (37.5% ABV) is equal to one unit.
- A 175ml (standard) glass of red wine (12% ABV) is equal to two units.
- A pint of beer (5% ABV) contains 2.8 units.
- A pint of cider (6% ABV) contains 3.4 units.
Something else to bear in mind is that the same type of drink can vary in strength between different brands. For example, some wines and lagers contain more alcohol than others. What’s more, bars and restaurants offer a variety of measures. Here are some examples.
These come in measurements of 25ml, 35ml or multiples of these – a double is 50ml, for example.
Wine comes in measurements of 125ml, 175ml or multiples of these – a large glass is 250ml, for example.
If you drink three 250ml glasses of wine, you’re drinking a whole bottle of wine and three times the recommended daily units. It can be easy to do without even realising it.
For more information, see our article ‘The alcohol equation – do you know what you’re drinking?’ And to accurately track how many units you are drinking, try our alcohol units calculator. There are also apps for your phone that can help you keep track.
It takes about one hour for your liver to break down each unit of alcohol. The more you drink, the longer it will take for the effects of alcohol to clear. There are times when not drinking alcohol at all is the safest choice. These include the following.
- Before you plan to drive or when you’re driving – alcohol affects people differently so it’s best not to drink at all.
- Before or when you’re operating machinery or electrical equipment, or doing some DIY.
- Before or during swimming or other active sports.
- When you’re taking certain medicines – always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and ask your pharmacist or GP for advice.
- When you’re pregnant or trying for a baby. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage and affect the development of your baby.
Some people find that they cannot drink in a controlled way, and that completely abstaining from alcohol is the safest option for them.
- Alcohol: preventing harmful alcohol use in the community. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), March 2015. www.nice.org.uk
- Alcohol-use disorders: preventing harmful drinking. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), June 2010. www.nice.org.uk
- Statistics on alcohol. England, 2015. Health and Social Care Information Centre. www.hscic.gov.uk, published 25 June 2015
- Alcohol unit guidelines. Drinkaware. www.drinkaware.co.uk, published November 2012
- Alcohol – problem drinking. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published April 2015
- Ethanol level. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 4 February 2014
- Alcohol-use disorder. BMJ Best Practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, published 18 August 2015
- Regulation (EU) no 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2011. Eur-Lex. www.eur-lex.europa.eu, published 22 November 2011
- The food information regulations 2013 guide to compliance. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. www.gov.uk, published November 2012
- Alcohol labelling. Portman Group. www.portmangroup.org.uk, accessed 16 September 2015
- Dealing with a hangover. Drinkaware. www.drinkaware.co.uk, published March 2015
- What is an alcohol unit? Drinkaware. www.drinkaware.co.uk, published August 2015
- Unit and calorie calculator. Drinkaware. www.drinkaware.co.uk, accessed 16 September 2015
- The sale of alcohol in licensed premises. Business Companion. www.businesscompanion.info, accessed 16 September 2015
- Alcohol and depression. Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, published August 2015
- Dinner only drinking. Drinkaware. www.drinkaware.co.uk, published March 2015
- The drink drive limit. Gov.UK. www.gov.uk, published 28 January 2015
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Content Team, October 2015.
This information was updated in January 2016 following revisions to the Department of Health’s guidelines for alcohol consumption.
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
Information StandardWe are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
HONcodeThis site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Meet the team
Head of health content and clinical engagement
- Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor- UK Customer
- Nicholas Ridgman – Lead Editor – UK Health and Care Services
- Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor – User Experience
- Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor – Content Library
- Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor – Insights
- Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor – Quality
- Michelle Harrison – Editorial Assistant
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
Plain English Campaign
Our website is approved by the Plain English Campaign and carries their Crystal Mark for clear information. In 2010, we won the award for best website.
Website approved by Plain English Campaign.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: email@example.com. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
15-19 Bloomsbury Way