What is an alcohol unit? (2024)

Understanding how many units of alcohol you drink is a great first step to looking after your health. But what is a unit, and what does it mean?

What is an alcohol unit?

Alcohol units are a simple way of understanding the quantity of pure alcohol in a drink.

One unit is 10ml (millilitres) or 8g (grams) of pure alcohol. Because alcoholic drinks come in different strengths and sizes, units are a way to tell how strong your drink is, which can also help you to make comparisons.

As an example, a pint of average strength beer (4% ‘alcohol by volume’, or ABV – see below for explanation) has about two units in it, while a single measure (25ml) of typical spirits is one unit.

It takes an average adult around an hour to process one unit of alcohol so that there's none left in their bloodstream, although this varies from person to person. And the more you drink, the longer it takes – so, six units of alcohol would take the average person six hours to process.

The UK’s Chief Medical Officers advise that, if you choose to drink, it’s safest to drink no more than 14 units a week (for both men and women). It’s also important to spread any drinking over three or more days, with several drink-free days and no bingeing.

Keep track of your units with the MyDrinkaware app

Alcohol by volume

Drinks labels also contain information on the percentage of alcohol a drink contains – this is known as ‘alcohol by volume’ or ABV.

Look on a bottle of wine or a can of lager and you'll see either a percentage, followed by the abbreviation ‘ABV’, or sometimes just the word ‘vol’. So, as an example, wine that says ‘13 ABV’ on its label contains 13% pure alcohol.

The alcoholic content of similar types of drinks can vary a lot. For example, some ales are 3.5% ABV, but stronger continental lagers and craft beers can be 5% or 6% ABV, or even more – always check the label.

The same is true for wine - some stronger wines can exceed 14% ABV, and it seems that, on average, wine has been getting stronger in recent years. The only way to be sure of how much alcohol is in your glass of wine is to check the label, or ask at the bar.

One pint of strong lager or a large glass of wine each contain more than three units of alcohol.

Spirit measures and wine glass sizes

Pubs and bars used to commonly serve spirits (like vodka, gin, rum or whisky) in 25ml measures - that’s about one unit of alcohol per measure. But these days many pubs and bars have switched to 35ml or 50ml measures – meaning you might be having a lot more alcohol without realising.

There has been a trend towards larger servings for wine too. If you order a large glass of wine, that means you’re having 250ml – and that is likely to contain at least three units of alcohol in a single glass.

So, drinking three large glasses of wine is the same as drinking a whole bottle (750ml), which, like any binge drinking, can have serious consequences for your health. Binge drinking in the UK, as defined by the NHS, is drinking more than eight units of alcohol in a single session for men, and more than six units of alcohol in a single session for women.

Regularly having just one or two heavy drinking episodes a week will increase your risk of death fromlong-term illness and from accidents andinjuries.1

Why not switch to a smaller glass? Licensed premises that sell wine by the glass have to offer it in 125ml and 175ml glasses too, as well as the larger 250ml glasses.2 The Chief Medical Officers advise you can reduce your risks by limiting the total amount of alcohol you drink on any single occasion, drinking more slowly, drinking with food, and alternating with water.

If you drink at home, a good way to avoid accidentally pouring too much and limit how many units of alcohol you have is with a measuring cup. Get one from the Drinkaware shop today.

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What is an alcohol unit? (2024)


What is a unit of alcohol? ›

Units are a simple way of expressing the quantity of pure alcohol in a drink. One unit equals 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol, which is around the amount of alcohol the average adult can process in an hour.

Is 20 units a lot? ›

men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. spread your drinking over 3 or more days if you regularly drink as much as 14 units a week.

What is 1 standard drink unit? ›

Standard drinks are a way to measure how much alcohol you drink. Drinks come in different sizes and some are stronger than others. They have different amounts of alcohol in them. A standard drink is always equal to 10 g of pure alcohol.

What is the alcohol unit recommendation? ›

Alcohol guidelines

It's recommended to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, spread across 3 days or more. That's around 6 medium (175ml) glasses of wine, or 6 pints of 4% beer. There's no completely safe level of drinking, but sticking within these guidelines lowers your risk of harming your health.

How to measure alcohol unit? ›

You can work out how many units there are in any drink by multiplying the total volume of a drink (in ml) by its ABV (measured as a percentage) and dividing the result by 1,000. So, to work out the number of units in a pint (568ml) of strong lager (ABV 5.2%): 5.2 (%) x 568 (ml) ÷ 1,000 = 2.95 units.

Is a unit of alcohol one drink? ›

A unit of alcohol is 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol and is equivalent to: a single measure of spirits; half a pint of average-strength (4%) lager; two-thirds of a small glass of average-strength (12%) wine. There are no safe levels of alcohol consumption that's why we talk about low, increased and higher risk levels.

How many units is a shot of vodka? ›

Vodka, like all spirits, is a strong alcoholic drink.

A typical-strength single (25ml) measure of vodka will have 1 unit of alcohol in it. And if your drink has a double measure, that means double the amount of alcohol (and calories).

Is 6 units of alcohol a day a lot? ›

There is no safe amount of alcohol, but to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. 14 units means roughly six pints of lager or one and a half bottles of wine. Spread them out over three or more days.

What is 30 units of alcohol? ›

30 units is about 1 bottle of vodka, 3 bottles of wine, 12 pints of normal strength beer, 7 cans of 9% super lager or 4 litres of strong cider. Try and keep your drinking steady, without having heavy binges or days completely without alcohol. Our doctors and nurses are available to support you.

What does 1 unit of alcohol look like? ›

One unit equals 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol. You can work out how much alcohol is in your drink - based on its strength and size - by using the following equation: strength (alcohol by volume or ABV) x the volume of the drink (in millilitres) ÷ 1,000 = the total number of units in your drink.

How much alcohol is safe to drink daily? ›

A note on drinking level terms used in this Core article: The 2020-2025 U.S. Dietary Guidelines states that for adults who choose to drink alcohol, women should have 1 drink or less in a day and men should have 2 drinks or less in a day.

How many units of alcohol per day? ›

2-3 units a day or approximately 21 units a week. This is the equivalent of two bottles of wine a week. The safe limit for men is: 2-3 units a day or approximately 21 units a week.

What do 20 units of alcohol look like? ›

Therefore, 20 units of alcohol can be likened to approximately 8.7 pints of beer or 8.7 medium-sized glasses of wine per week.

How much is 2 units of alcohol? ›

Drink and units
Type of drinkNumber of alcohol units
Pint of lower-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6%)2 units
Standard glass of red/white/rosé wine (175ml, ABV 12%)2.1 units
Pint of higher-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 5.2%)3 units
Large glass of red/white/rosé wine (250ml, ABV 12%)3 units
5 more rows

How much drink is too much? ›

Binge drinking: For women, binge drinking is 4 or more drinks consumed on one occasion (one occasion = 2-3 hours). For men, binge drinking is 5 or more drinks consumed on one occasion. Underage drinking: Any alcohol use by those under age 21. Heavy drinking: For women, heavy drinking is 8 drinks or more per week.

What is one unit of vodka? ›

A typical-strength single (25ml) measure of vodka will have 1 unit of alcohol in it. And if your drink has a double measure, that means double the amount of alcohol (and calories).

What is 1 unit of alcohol in pints? ›

In the UK, one unit equals 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol. As an example, an average strength pint of beer, or 175ml glass of wine, total around two units of alcohol.

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