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Government advice on sensible drinking for adults
Women: 2-3 units per day

Men: 3-4 units per day


Government guidelines

How alcohol effects us depends on many factors such as your age, size, sex and health. How quickly you drink, and whether it is with food or on an empty stomach, also effects how quickly you absorb alcohol.

The Government looks at the risks and benefits of drinking alcohol and has been able to draw up guidelines for safe or low risk drinking. These are, for healthy adults, 3-4 units for men and 2-3 units for women. Guidelines are daily rather than weekly, as you should not 'save up' units and drink heavily at the weekends. This has become known as binge drinking. Binge drinking over one or two nights a week can lead to health problems and anti-social behaviour.

units and guidelinesWhat is a unit?

A unit is 8g or 10 ml of pure alcohol - that is half a pint of average strength beer, or a single shot of vodka - a 175ml glass of wine at 12% will contain 2 units. Your body ( mainly your liver) takes about an hour to break down a unit of alcohol.

BBC Health Explained
video clip - what is a unit

bbc unit clip

Drinking guidelines in the UK and the effects of too much alcohol

units and guidelines video

Why not try the UNIT CALCULATORS
to see how many units your favourite drinks contain?

sensible drinking man

nhs unit checker

Or download an app for your phone

iphone drinking appiphone drinking app

Why are there different guidelines for men and women?

Women's bodies are generally smaller and have less body water, so alcohol concentrations rise more quickly. Sorry ladies, but you can’t drink as much as men. That’s not a male conspiracy theory but a biological fact! Women have less body water than men so the concentration of alcohol in their blood stream is proportionally higher. So, if a woman weighing 60 kgs drinks a double vodka then a man of the same size will need to drink a triple in order to reach the same blood alcohol level. There is also some evidence that women break down alcohol slightly differently. The enzyme ADH breaks down alcohol in the liver and in the lining of the stomach; and women have less of it, so alcohol is broken down more slowly.

When not to drink

Official drinking guidelines are issued by governments and public health to advise on levels of alcohol consumption considered 'safe', 'responsible,' or 'low risk'. They do not apply to those under the legal drinking age (age 18) or to pregnant women. Those on medication or with a history of illness should consult their general practitioner or specific advice. For religious or health reasons nearly half of adults around the world choose not to drink (45%).

Responsible drinking means drinking enjoyably, sociably and moderately and includes not drinking at all in situations when the effects of alcohol will put your own or someone's safety or health at risk. So don’t:

alcohol packaging labelMost drinks now contains unit information on the back label helping you choose lower alcohol options and to know how many units are in a typical glass as well as the whole container
  • Drink and drive
  • Operate machinery, use electrical equipment or work at heights after drinking
  • Drink heavily before playing sport
  • Drink while on certain medications - ask your Doctor if you are unsure
  • Binge drink - it can lead to health and social problems
  • Drink when pregnant
What is Alcohol? (Click for more information)

Guidance for teenagers in the UK

In 2009 the Chief Medical Officer introduced guidelines for young people (under 18) on drinking alcohol. To read the guidance (aimed at parents) please click here.

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