Drinking Units Defined

Drinking units are a way to measure how much alcohol you drink. It is especially important when you plan to regulate your alcohol intake. Knowing the number of units in every drink will help you track whether you’re consuming too much alcohol and may be even dependent on alcohol.

The UK Government recommends that men and women drink no more than 14 units per week spread over three or more days. And at first glance, it seems like a guideline which is clear and easy to follow, but it is more complex than it looks. The Government’s rule of thumb does not tell us how many drinks we should have to have one unit. There are varying numbers of units in each drink. Is drinking one pint of dark Guinness the same as drinking a shot of tequila? In this article, we’ll explain drinking units, how to calculate them and discuss the importance of responsible drinking.

What Are Drinking Units?

Drinking units are a measure of the amount of alcohol present in a single serving of an alcoholic beverage. They are used to express the alcoholic content of a beverage in terms of the amount of pure alcohol it contains. In the United Kingdom, a standard single unit of alcohol is equivalent to 8 grams of pure alcohol. This means that one unit of alcohol across every type of alcoholic drink remains 8 grams.

Why Are Drinking Units Necessary?


Generally, it takes about one hour for the body to metabolise one gram of pure alcohol. Now imagine how long it would take to metabolise one unit. However, this can vary widely from person to person. This is one of the several reasons why drinking units are essential. Other reasons include the following;

  1. They help people understand the alcoholic content of different alcoholic beverages.
  2. They help people track their alcohol intake.
  3. They help people manage their alcohol consumption.
  4. They help people understand the risks associated with alcohol use.

What Is the Recommended Drinking Unit?

The UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) guidelines recommend that we consume less than 14 units of alcohol a week. These guidelines apply to men and women. The guidelines also advise you to spread your drinking over three or more days and have several alcohol-free days each week.

How Are Drinking Units Measured?

As we mentioned previously, in the United Kingdom, one unit equals 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol. You can calculate how much drinking unit is in alcohol is in your drink using this formula:

Strength (alcohol by volume (ABV)) x the volume of the drink (in millilitres) ÷ 1,000 = the total number of units in your drink.

The number of drinking units in a beverage varies depending on the specific product and its alcohol by volume (ABV).  For example, the number of units in a pint of 7% ABV beer is;

  • 7 x 568 (ml) ÷ 1,000 = 3.9 units

For a medium-sized glass of 13% ABV wine;

  • 13 (ABV%) x 175 (ml) ÷ 1,000 = 2.3 units

So, a 25-millilitre serving of spirits with an ABV of 40% would contain about 1 drinking unit. This is calculated as follows:

  • (25 ml x 40%) / 1000g = 1 unit

It’s also important to remember that the effects of alcohol can vary widely from person to person. For example, some people may consume two units before feeling any effects. In contrast, others may only be able to tolerate one unit without feeling drunk or hungover the next day.

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Is The Drinking Unit the Same for Different Drinks?

When considering the units in your drink, you need to consider how much alcohol there is per glass or bottle. There are considerable differences based on the type of drink itself. Here is a table showing the approximate number of drinking units for different kinds of alcoholic beverages, based on standard serving size and an ABV of 5-40%:

Beverage Serving Size (ml) ABV Drinking Units
Beer 355 5% 1.5
Light beer 355 4% 1.2
Hard seltzer 355 5% 1.5
Cider 355 5% 1.5
Wine 148 12% 0.6
Standard glass of wine 175 13% 2.3
Fortified wine 88 20% 0.6
Spirits (one shot) 44 40% 1
Spirits (Double shot) 50ml 40% 2
Alcopop  275 4.5% 1.5

Tips to Reduce Your Alcohol Consumption

binge drinking problem

Alcohol abuse is a serious public health concern in the UK. In England, alcohol is the leading cause of disability, sickness and death among people aged 19-45. Drinking units help manage consumption, but it is still limited in effectiveness. If you are looking to reduce your alcohol consumption, tapering off your use gradually can be a helpful approach. Here are some tips for reducing your alcohol use;

  1. Set a goal: Start by deciding how much you want to reduce alcohol consumption and when. Having a clear goal will help you stay motivated and on track.
  2. Keep track of your drinking: Keep track of how much you drink, when you drink, and why you drink. This can help you identify patterns and triggers contributing to your alcohol use.
  3. Set limits: Consider setting limits for yourself, such as only allowing yourself to drink on certain days of the week or setting a maximum number of drinks per occasion.
  4. Find alternatives: Look for activities or hobbies you can engage in instead of drinking. This could be physical, like going for a walk or a run, or something creative, like painting or cooking.
  5. Seek support: It can be helpful to have the support of friends and family as you work to reduce your alcohol consumption. You may also find it helpful to talk to a healthcare professional or a therapist for guidance and support.

Remember to take things slowly and be kind to yourself as you work to reduce alcohol use. It’s okay to make mistakes; the most important thing is to keep trying and moving forward.

Final Thoughts

The drinking unit is a great way to measure how much alcohol you consume. Remember, the recommended amount of alcohol per day is around 14 units. This means that if you are drinking more than this, it could be harmful to your health as well as affecting your ability to drive safely. Hopefully, this article has helped clarify any confusion about what exactly makes up a drinking unit and what kind of effects different drinks have on our bodies.