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Alcohol Units And Guidelines


Posted: 04/01/2018

Updated: 02/05/2018

Alcohol can be an enjoyable part of most lifestyles if drank responsibly. However, most people tend to overestimate as what counts as a single unit of alcohol.


This can lead to binge drinking (gulping a ton of alcohol in one go) that is all too common and is dangerous – it may result in trips to jail, brawls, domestic violence, car accidents and even, deaths.


According to the WHO, 3.3 million deaths every year results from the overuse of alcohol.


The immediate effects of alcohol include the dilation of blood vessels and depression of the central nervous system leads to impaired judgement and coordination.


Long-term consumption results in higher risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, liver disease and so on. The severity of these effects depends on your tolerance and how much you drink. That’s why it’s important to understand how much alcohol your drink contains in order to prevent overconsumption.


These guidelines are published in January 2016 by the Chief Medical Officers in the UK.

  • Both men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week

  • Spread these 14 units over three or more days and it is better to have several alcohol free days

These guidelines are only used in the UK. There is not a general consensus on what constitutes harmful or excessive alcohol consumption across the world.

Alcohol unit/Standard units

In the UK, an alcohol unit is defined as 10 mL (8 grams) of pure alcohol which is the amount of alcohol an average adult can process in an hour.


In other countries, standard units are used and vary depending on where you are. For instance, one standard unit is defined as 14 mL (17.7 grams) in the US and 10 mL (12.7 grams) in Australia and hence the calculations for each unit differs.


Alcohol by volume (ABV or ALC. By Vol)


ABV is a measure of the amount of pure alcohol as a percentage of the total volume of liquid in a drink.

5% ABV= 5% of the volume of the drink is pure alcohol


The formula


Note: calculations vary between countries

In the UK: Strength (ABV) X volume (mL) / 1000 = units

In Australia: Strength (ABV) X volume (L) * 0.789 = units


In the UK

12.5 X 750mL / 1000 ≈ 9.4 units per bottle

In Australia

Sometimes standard drinks (alcohol units) are shown on the bottle

14 X 750mL * 0.789 ≈ 8.3 units per bottle

Alcoholic Beverages

With so many alcoholic beverages out there, it’s easy to get confused with what a single unit actually is. Below is a list of the most common drinks (UK alcohol units and limits).  

Beer, lager, stout

(~4% ABV)

10 per week

1 can/bottle (330mL) = 1.3 units

7 per week

1 pint (568mL) = 1.8 units

5 per week

1 big bottle (640mL) = 2.5 units

Red and white wine

(~13% ABV)

6 per week

1 glass (175mL) = 2.3 units

4 per week

1 larger glass (250mL) = 3.2 units

1.4 per week

1 bottle (750mL) = 9.8 units

Spirits (Whisky/Vodka/Rum/Tequila/Brandy)

(~40% ABV)

14 per week

1 shot (25mL) = 1 unit

11 per week

1 shot (30mL) = 1.2 unit

10 per week

1 shot (35mL) = 1.4 unit


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