Alcohol: know your numbers


Alcohol is often viewed negatively. However, like every part of living a healthy life, balance is the key.

From a health perspective, excess alcohol consumption can lead to heart disease, liver disease, problems with circulation, high blood pressure, ulcers, various forms of cancer and brain damage.

On a more practical level, alcohol can play havoc with energy levels, mood management and sleeping patterns.

Although we often read newspaper headlines stating the health benefits of alcohol, we know that heavy drinking is bad for our health and evidence is accumulating that even an occasional binge is bad for you too.


The risks or benefits of light to moderate drinking are less clear. The NHS advice is that drinking alcohol is never completely safe, and people who choose to drink should not exceed the recommended number of units.

Government guidelines Until relatively recently, the UK Government guideline on alcohol was that men drink a maximum of 21 units of alcohol a week and that women drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week.

This information has been updated and the guideline is now 14 units per week for both men and women.

Remember though, even with the new figures, the guideline is a recommendation of limits to stay within – not a target to be achieved at all costs as some people seem to think.


It’s good to experiment with drinking less and see how this affects your energy levels, mood and sleep.

It’s also important to remember that the guidelines for a unit of alcohol were set when alcohol was less strong and the glasses we used were smaller. So don’t fall into the trap of thinking that one drink means one unit. One unit is actually much less than most single drinks that we consume these days.


One unit is:

  • Half a pint of 3.5% beer or lager

  • 125ml of 8% wine

  • 25ml of spirits

Not many of us drink alcohol of these strengths or in these quantities. More common strengths and quantities are listed below along with their unit measurement.

  • A 500ml can or bottle of 5% beer or lager contains 2.5 units

  • A 175ml glass of wine, many of which are now around 12% alcohol by volume, contains two units. A 250ml glass which is often served in pubs is nearer three units

  • Pub measures of spirits are often 35ml which is close to 1.5 units

Worth knowing when you proactively plan your week of how much to drink and when. And when not to drink.

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