What is a unit of alcohol? - Get to understand units

Getting to know what is a unit of alcohol can at first seem tricky to understand, read on to get to grips on the new UK guidelines for alcohol and how to best make use of them to safeguard your health.

Units of alcohol are a measure of the volume of pure alcohol in an alcoholic beverage. They are used in some countries including Northern Ireland as a guideline for alcohol consumption.

One unit of alcohol is defined as 10 millilitres (7.9 grams) in the United Kingdom, it is often stated that a unit of alcohol is supplied by a small glass of wine, half a pint of beer, or a single measure of spirits. Such statements may be misleading because they do not reflect differences in strength of the various kinds of wines, beers, and spirits.

What are the recommended limits of alcohol?

The government’s unit guidelines state that there’s no safe level of alcohol consumption. Unit guidelines are the same for men and women and both are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units per week.

This is what 14 units look like:

6 pints of 4% beer

6 glasses of 13% wine

BUT don't 'save up' your 14 units, it's best to spread evenly across the week & have regular drink-free days.

A handy guide to units...

If you're pregnant you shouldn't drink alcohol at all

Keep the short-term health risks low by:

Limiting the total amount of alcohol in one session

drinking more slowly, alternating with food and/or water

Beers

A half pint (284 ml) of beer with 3.5% ABV contains almost exactly one unit; however, most beers are stronger. In pubs in the United Kingdom, beers generally range from 3.5%–5.5% ABV, and continental lagers start at around 5% ABV. A pint of such lager (e.g., 568 ml at 5.2%) contains almost 3 units of alcohol rather than the oft-quoted 2 units..

Wines

A medium glass (175 ml) of 12% ABV wine contains around two units of alcohol. However, British pubs and restaurants often supply larger quantities (large glass ≈ 250 ml), which contain 3 units. Red wine may have higher alcohol content (on average 12.5%, sometimes up to 16%)..

Spirits

Most spirits sold in the United Kingdom have 40% ABV or slightly less. In Great Britain, a single pub measure (25 ml) of a spirit contains one unit; however, a larger 35ml measure is standard in Northern Ireland which contains 1.4 units of alcohol..

Alcopops

Most alcopops contain 1.4–1.5 units per bottle. For example, a normal 275ml bottle of WKD contains 1.4 units, whereas Bacardi Breezer and Smirnoff Ice both contain 1.5 units of alcohol..

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