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Know your units

Tuesday 23 September 2014 Alcohol

Our easy-to-understand guide gives you the facts and advice on alcohol units and measures.

How drunk you get depends on how much pure alcohol your drink contains. One way to calculate this is by counting units.

The Government advises that people should not regularly drink more than the daily unit guidelines of 3-4 units of alcohol for men (equivalent to a pint and a half of 4% beer) and 2-3 units of alcohol for women (equivalent to a 175ml glass of wine). ‘Regularly’ means drinking every day or most days of the week.

One unit is 10 ml of pure alcohol – the amount of alcohol the average adult can process within an hour. The alcohol content in drinks is expressed as a percentage of the whole drink.

If you take a look at the label of a bottle of wine or a can of lager you will see either a percentage followed by the abbreviation ‘ABV’ which stands for alcohol by volume, or sometimes just the word ‘vol’. So, wine that says 13 ABV on its label contains 13% pure alcohol.

Strategies for lower alcohol drinking

At home 

If you’re pouring your own drinks at home, it’s easy to drink more than you usually would. Here are some tips to help you keep track of your intake.

  • Measure spirits instead of free pouring them.
  • If you drink wine at home, pour small amounts into your glass. If you fill glasses to the rim, you’ll be drinking more than you realise.
  • Try and pour your own drinks. If your half-full glass is constantly topped up, it’s hard to keep track of how much you are drinking.

Out and about

  • Ask for a small glass of wine – as well as serving wine in smaller 175ml glasses, some bars serve 125ml glasses of wine – that can be one and a half units of alcohol.
  • Drink spritzers if you like wine, or pints of shandy if you are a lager drinker. You will get a large drink, but one that contains less alcohol.
  • Opt for half pints if you prefer higher strength lager or try lower strength beer - you may notice the difference.
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks.
  • Ask questions. If you are still uncertain about how much you are drinking, ask the bar staff. Do they pour doubles or singles? How big is their large glass of wine?