Drinkaware A guide to alcohol consumption

When it comes to alcohol there is so much advice and information out there that it can feel overwhelming.

Drinkaware has compiled this straightforward guide, to clarify some of the terms and recommendations that are associated with drinking alcohol.

So, if you have ever wondered, “What is a unit?” or “How much is too much?”, please read on.

What are the low risk drinking guidelines?

To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, the UK’s Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) advise it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.

This advice is the same for both men and women. If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it’s best to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days.

If you have one or two heavy drinking episodes a week, you increase your risk of long-term illness and injury. The risk of developing a range of health problems, (including cancers of the mouth, throat and breast), increases the more you drink on a regular basis.

If you wish to cut down the amount you drink, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days a week.

The low risk guidelines also advise women who are pregnant or think they may become pregnant not to drink at all. Drinking alcohol at any stage during pregnancy can cause harm to your baby and the more you drink, the greater the risk.

What is a unit of alcohol?

It’s not as simple as one drink, one unit. Because alcoholic drinks come in different strengths and sizes, units are a way to tell how strong your drink is. One unit is 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol.

Drinkaware graphic for intro to alcohol article

An easy way to stick to the low risk guidelines is to remember that 14 units is equivalent to about six pints of 4% larger, six medium (175ml) glasses of 13.5% wine or 14 single measures (25ml) of spirits.

facebook 14 unit guideliines infographic no depth copy

How much is too much alcohol?

Drinking increasingly greater amounts and more frequently can increase our tolerance for alcohol, which can be harmful to our health and lead to dependence. This is because the more alcohol we drink, our bodies adjust and the more likely it is that we will need to drink more each time to feel the same effects. And the more alcohol we drink, the greater the risk to our health.

If you think you might be drinking too much, a good place to start is by taking Drinkaware’s self-assessment quiz.

It uses a shortened version of the 10-item Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) developed by the World Health Organisation. Consisting of the consumption questions only, the tool is designed to quickly assist in the early identification of individuals who drink in ways that are potentially or currently harmful to health.

There are three consumption-related questions that relate to drinking frequency, units consumed on a typical occasion and frequency of drinking six units or more (for women) or eight units or more (for men) at a single session. A score of 0 to 4 indicates low risk; 5 to 7 indicates increasing risk; 8 to10 indicates higher risk; and 11 to 12 indicates possible dependence.

Each question is scored between zero and four. The results of each are then summed to a score of between 0 to 12. This score is then divided into the following risk categories:

Questions Scoring system Your score







How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?


or less

2 - 4 times per month

2 - 3 times per week

4+ times per week


How many units of alcohol do you drink on a typical day when you are drinking?

1 -2

3 - 4

5 - 6

7 - 9



How often have you had six or more units if female, or eight or more if male, on a single occasion in the last year?


Less than monthly



Daily or almost daily


Further resources from Drinkaware which you might find helpful: