Doctors and scientists agree that there is no completely safe upper limit when it comes to alcohol. Drinking alcohol will always carry some risk to health.
The recommended drinking limits have been set by the UK Department of Health and are based upon medical and scientific evidence of the short- and long-term effects of alcohol. Alcohol can increase your risk of injury and health problems and have other harmful effects, even when you think it isn't harming you.
A 'unit' system is used as a way of making it easier for people to know how much alcohol they have drunk. A unit is equal to about a teaspoonful of pure alcohol.
Females: it is recommended that women don't drink more than 2-3 units per day (and no more than 14 units per week). Women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should avoid drinking alcohol completely.
Example: 14 units = 6 pints of lager or 6.5 glasses of wine
Males: It is recommended that men do not drink more than 3-4 units per day (and no more than 21 units per week).
Example: 21 units = 9 pints of lager or 15 measure of spirits
However, consistently drinking at these levels is not advised. Everyone should have at least two alcohol-free days a week.
Please note: These guidelines are for people over 18, there is no safe amount for those under 18.
How Many Units In Your Drink?
So now you know about safe drinking limits, but how do you work out how many units you’re actually drinking?
The number of units of alcohol in a drink depends on the size and strength of a drink.
330ml bottle of standard lager or beer (5% abv)– 1.7 units
25ml measure of whisky/gin/rum/vodka (40% abv)– 1 units
175ml standard glass of wine (12.5% abv) – 2.2 units
275ml bottle of alcopop (5% abv) – 1.4 units
1 pint of standard lager or beer (4% abv) – 2.2 units
1 pint medium strength lager/beer (5% abv) – 2.8 units
1 pint of strong cider (6.5% abv) – 3.6 units
It takes an hour for your body to process one unit of alcohol.
These figures can only be used as a rough guide. Your actual body size, gender, the speed at which you drink, what you eat, age . . . all affect the way you absorb alcohol and the effect it has on your body.
What is binge drinking?
There is no official medical definition of what a 'binge' is but in Scotland we tend to think of it as:
Women drinking more than 5 units in a session (e.g. 3½ Smirnoff Ice)
Men drinking more than 8 units (e.g. just over 2½ pints of medium strength lager)
Drinking regularly at this level means you are risking damage to your health. If you drink this amount, doctors say that you should then not drink any alcohol for 48 hours afterwards.
How to stick to your limit...
It can be tricky keeping track of how much you’re drinking throughout the week. There are lots different tools out there to help you. You could try keeping a drink diary, or use a unit calculator.
Always have something to eat before you go out. Foods such as pasta, bread or potatoes are ideal for this.
Drink at your own pace and know your limits. Don’t feel that you have to finish off every single drink if you are struggling.
Drink bottles of beer rather than pints and you’ll find that the night lasts a lot longer.
If you are starting to feel drunk then try and change to water or soft drinks.
Dark coloured drinks such as ale, red wine and port make your hangover all the worse the next day because your body finds it harder to process.
Take a jumper, cardi, or jacket out with you (you can always leave it in the cloakroom) because it’s important not to get cold waiting for a lift or taxi home. After drinking and particularly if you are outside, your body gets cold quickly and in extreme cases some people have even died from this.
Try to make it home first, or at least be with a friend if you are going to be ill. Pubs and clubs often will throw you out if they see you are being sick, and if you can’t get back in to tell your friends it could be a long and lonely journey home.
Try to take a taxi home, or go home with your friends, don’t stumble about in the dark on the way home. If you are drunk then you are vulnerable.
If your friend is drunk:
Don’t leave them on their own - even if they are being a pain.
Try and stop your friend from drinking any more.
Keep your friend warm.
Call 999 if they are unconscious or if you are at all worried. When an ambulance arrives, tell the paramedics that your friend has been drinking, and also if they may have taken any drugs.
Drinkline Scotland- If you think you might have a problem with alcohol, call Drinkline Scotland on 0800 7314 314. It’s a free and confidential service ( open 24hrs, 7 days a week).
Youth Health Talk Online- Hear young people's experiences of drinking alcohol. Click on the heading that takes your interest, read the info or scroll down and click on the thumbnails to watch videos of young people telling their story.
Drink Smarter- Enjoy your drink but know how it could be affecting you. Find out more on this website.
Alcohol Focus Scotland- The national charity for alcohol issues. You can get lots of information about alcohol from their site.
Drinkaware- drinkaware aim to promote sensible drinking, they have lots of information and advice on their website.