What is an alcohol unit?
An alcohol unit is how we categorise the pure alcohol content in our drinks. One unit of alcohol in the UK is 10ml (8g), which is the amount of alcohol the average adult can process within an hour.
This means that if the average adult consumes a drink with one unit of alcohol in it, within an hour, there should in theory be no alcohol left in their bloodstream. However, that length of time could differ depending on a person’s body size.
The strength of any drink is described as the quantity of the drink’s volume that is pure alcohol, using ABV (Alcohol by Volume). Looking at the label of any drink the ABV will explain how much pure alcohol is contained, for example, a bottle of wine that shows ‘13% ABV’ or ‘13% Vol’ means that the bottle of wine contains 13% of pure alcohol.
One unit is the amount of pure alcohol in a 25ml single measure of spirits (ABV 40%), a third of a pint of beer (ABV 5 to 6%) or half a 175ml ‘standard’ glass of red wine (ABV 12%).
Work out how many units there are in any drink by using this handy sum:
- Strength (ABV) x Volume (ml) ÷ 1000 = No. of units
e.g. Pint of Stella - 5.2 x 568 ÷ 1000 = 2.95
Knowing a drink’s exact ABV is important to calculate units, because different brands of the same volume may be stronger or weaker. The information is found on the labels of cans and bottles, also bar staff can provide information on the ABV, to keep count and know how many units when out drinking.
Am I drinking too much?
When does regularly enjoying a drink slide into something to be concerned about? There is a way to determine this, but it starts at a much lower volume than most people would expect. The NHS recommends that –
- Men should not exceed 3-4 units per day on a regular basis
- Women should not exceed 2-3 units per day on a regular basis
No amount of alcohol is completely safe, but the recommended limits are the levels of regular drinking that pose only a low risk of developing future health problems. Drinking above these levels on a regular basis is associated with an increasing risk of diseases, and these risks increase when more is consumed.
Although there is no completely safe level of drinking, the NHS advises that the risk of harm is low in men and women who do not regularly drink over these recommended levels.
How much is too much?
Drinking ‘too much’ has been divided into three categories by the alcohol awareness organisation, Drinkaware.
Heavy or hazardous
Exceeding the NHS recommended limit is considered to be heavy or hazardous drinking. In Great Britain, just fewer than 33% of men and 20% of women drink more than the advised limits. Just two large glasses of wine or one pint of 4% lager is over the suggested daily limit.
A total of 8% of men and 2% of women drink more than the levels regarded as “harmful” – that’s 50 units a week for men, 35 units for women. That’s just two large glasses of wine every night for women and for men, a bottle of wine five nights a week. Drinking in this way increases the risk of becoming dependent on alcohol and developing long-term physical and mental health problems.
Alcohol dependence is usually characterised by an overpowering urge to drink alcohol and the inability to limit or stop drinking once you have started. Some people who are dependent on alcohol report being preoccupied with it and that the need to drink alcohol takes over their lives. More than one in 25 adults is dependent on alcohol.
The Inexcess Support Directory lists more than 1600 service providers throughout the UK and is divided by region to help support and advise people how to find help in their own area. Click here to visit the Support Directory.