Do you know your alcohol limits?

During this year’s Alcohol Awareness Week (November 13 - 19, 2017), Alcohol Concern reminds us that alcohol is linked to more than 60 medical conditions, including liver disease, heart disease, some cancers and depression.

Harmful drinking is the biggest risk factor for death, ill health and disability among 15 – 49-year-olds in the UK, says the charity, and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages.

Yet one of the most common questions many people ask when it comes to alcohol is, ‘How much should I be drinking?’ So with the festive season fast approaching, now’s a good time to remind ourselves of the alcohol guidelines published by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers to reduce alcohol-related health harms.

The guidelines themselves aren’t instructions or rules but information to help you make decisions around your drinking. And the level of consumption they recommend reduces the risk of dying of an alcohol-related cause to less than one percent.

Years ago, there were different guidelines for men and women. But in 2016 they were changed, and now they recommend the same low-risk level for both sexes. This is because men face much higher risks of acute harm on single drinking occasions – such as injury – despite the fact that long-term alcohol health risks are generally higher for women.

And of course alcohol affects individual people in different ways, depending on things such as age, weight and general health. The guidelines, however, are based on research evidence for minimum levels of risk, so they can be followed by everyone.

What experts recommend

The Chief Medical Officers’ recommendations are as follows:

  • Men and women should not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week. Units should ideally be spread evenly over three days or more, and you should have several alcohol-free days each week
  • Limit the amount you drink on single occasions and combine drinking alcohol with eating food and drinking water
  • If you’re pregnant, you should avoid drinking altogether

Another point many people aren’t clear about is how much alcohol makes a unit. This all depends on the size and strength of your drink, so a drink with a higher alcohol-by-volume (ABV) percentage will have more units than that same type of drink with a lower ABV. To give you an idea, here are some examples:

Small glass (125ml) of wine (ABV 12%) – 1.5 units

Standard glass (175ml) of wine (ABV 12%) – 2.1 units

Pint of lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6%) – 2 units

Pint of lager/beer/cider (ABV 5.2%) – 3 units

Standard shot (25ml) of spirits – 1 unit

To work out how many units you’re drinking, use the Drinkaware calculator.

Meanwhile if you want to make some changes to cut back on your drinking, here are some quick tips from Alcohol Concern:

  • Keep a drinks diary to keep track of how much you’re drinking
  • Avoid drinking in rounds
  • Take more alcohol-free days
  • Do more activities that don’t involve alcohol

Your local Careway pharmacist can also offer advice if you want to drink less. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.