Making Sense of Alcohol Units

In today’s guest blog, our friends from Blenheim explain the new UK recommended alcohol guidelines and what they mean for you.


Navigating alcohol units is something that we haven’t all quite mastered. With such a variety of drinks on offer it’s easy to get confused – however, keeping track of how much you’re drinking can not only prevent that dreaded hangover, it can also be really important for your health.

In light of significant new evidence linking alcohol and the risk of cancer (particularly breast, colon and cancers of the mouth and throat) the Chief Medical Officer has updated the alcohol unit guidelines. The guidelines now state that there is no safe amount to drink, advising that both men and women should not drink more than 14 units per week.

But what counts as one ‘unit’?

One unit is 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol – it is the amount of alcohol the average adult can process in one hour. As some drinks are bigger and stronger than others, it’s not just a case of one unit = one drink… it’s a bit more complicated than that.

What does one alcohol unit look like

The new drinking guidelines have also lowered the alcohol limit for men to be the same as women, stating that:

  • Men and women should limit their intake to no more than 14 units a week to reduce the risk of illnesses like cancer and liver disease.

  • You should spread your alcohol units out over the week and not ‘binge’ drink. The definition of binge drinking used by the NHS is drinking more than double the weekly guidelines for alcohol in one session.

Alcohol unit guidelines as beer, wine, cider or spirits

What do the guidelines mean for drinking on one night out?

Even though it is recommended that 14 units of alcohol can be consumed per week for both men and women, it is suggested that these are not all consumed at the same time. If you have one or more heavy drinking sessions, your risk of death from long term illness, injury or accidents increases. When it comes to single drinking occasions you can keep the short term health risks low by sticking to a few simple rules:

  • Limit the total amount of alcohol you drink on any occasion;

  • Try some of the non-alcohol alternatives that are becoming more readily available;

  • Order half pints or go for the smallest glass of wine. Having drinks with a lower ABV (alcohol by volume) than your usual drink means you consume less alcohol overall.

  • Drink more slowly and alternate alcoholic drinks with water or a non-alcoholic drink.

  • Having something to eat will delay the alcohol absorption into your body.

There are some apps and unit calculators out there to help you calculate how much and how many calories you are drinking, here are a few –

Drinkaware: Track and Calculate Units app

Alcohol Concern

NHS Choices

There is also an alcohol factsheet available for download on the Blenheim website.

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