Recommended Safe Limits of Alcohol

Published October 3, 2013 by teacher dahl


What is a unit of alcohol?
One unit of alcohol is 10 ml (1 cl) by volume, or 8 g by weight, of pure alcohol. For example: One unit of alcohol is about equal to: half a pint of ordinary strength beer, lager or cider (3-4% alcohol by volume); or a small pub measure (25 ml) of spirits (40% alcohol by volume); or a standard pub measure (50 ml) of fortified wine such as sherry or port (20% alcohol by volume).

There are one and a half units of alcohol in:

  • a small glass (125 ml) of ordinary strength wine (12% alcohol by volume); or
  • a standard pub measure (35 ml) of spirits (40% alcohol by volume).
  • But remember, many wines and beers are stronger than the more traditional ordinary strengths.
  • A more accurate way of calculating units is as follows: the percentage alcohol by volume (% abv) of a drink equals the number of units in one litre of that drink.
  • For example: Strong beer at 6% abv has six units in one litre. If you drink half a litre (500 ml) – just under a pint – then you have had three units.
  • Wine at 14% abv has 14 units in one litre. If you drink a quarter of a litre (250 ml) – two small glasses – then you have had three and a half units.

What are the recommended safe limits of alcohol?

  • Men should drink no more than 21 units of alcohol per week, no more than four units in any one day, and have at least two alcohol-free days a week.
  • Women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, no more than three units in any one day, and have at least two alcohol-free days a week.
  • Pregnant women.
    Advice from the Department of Health states that … “pregnant women or women trying to conceive should not drink alcohol at all. If they do choose to drink, to minimise the risk to the baby, they should not drink more than 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk”.


Some other examples

Three pints of beer, three times per week, is at least 18-20 units per week. That is nearly the upper weekly safe limit for a man. However, each drinking session of three pints is at least six units, which is more than the safe limit advised for any one day.
Another example: a 750 ml bottle of 12% wine contains nine units. If you drink two bottles of 12% wine over a week, that is 18 units. This is above the upper safe limit for a woman.


Isn’t alcohol good for you?

  • For men aged over 40 and for women past the menopause, it is thought that drinking a small amount of alcohol helps to protect against heart disease and stroke.
  • The exact amount is not clear, but it is a small amount.
    So, do not exceed the recommended amount of alcohol as described above in a mistaken belief that it may be good for the heart.

types of wine glasses

Drinking Categories

To enable us to have a greater awareness of how much alcohol is impacting on our own, and other people’s, health and well-being the following drinking categories are used.

  • Sensible Drinking
    Ninety per-cent (90%) of the adult population in Scotland drink alcohol, or to put it another way, nine out of every ten adults in Scotland drinks alcohol.
    Any consumption of alcohol can carry risks after all it is a toxic poison!

However there are recommended sensible limits to alcohol use with least risk to our health.

It is advisable to ensure that at least two days of the week are alcohol free and that on the other five days we consume no more than three units for a woman or four units for a man.

So why the difference for men and women?

Men’s bodies have more water and as alcohol does not travel well in water it means it takes slightly longer to affect men than it does women.

A women’s liver does not process alcohol as quickly as a man’s, hence the difference in sensible limits.

If we drink at sensible levels then risks to our health are minimized.

  • Risky Drinking
    Risky or hazardous drinking is defined as drinking over the recommended daily limits of three (3) units for women and (4) units for men.

If you drink double, or more than double, the recommended limits at any time then it is defined as binge drinking.

Risky or hazardous drinking carries an immediate risk of danger which includes, arguments, fights, and accidents.

It also increases the risks of illicit acts such as drink driving and physical violence as well as increasing the risks for young children who are being looked after by an adult drinking at these levels.

Remember the only way to ensure your driving is not affected by alcohol is to not drink any alcohol when driving..

Remember risky or hazardous alcohol use increases the chances of unsafe sexual practices. The majority of unplanned teenage pregnancies were the result of risky or hazardous drinking.

Risky or hazardous drinking increases your chances of physical injury and other health problems such as liver damage and memory loss.

It also increases your chances of developing long term health problems for the future such as weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and breast cancer.

Risky or hazardous drinking also has a negative impact on the bodies ageing process, immune system and sexual health.

It also impacts on not having a good nights sleep and can also impact negatively on our mood.

Alcohol is a depressant drug therefore it is not surprising that risky or hazardous drinking can result in a negative outcome

  • Dependent Drinking
    It is possible to become dependent on alcohol both physically and psychologically.

In general terms a woman who drinks seventy (70) units or more on a regular basis would be considered physically dependent as would a man drinking one hundred (100) units or more.

The key word here is regularly. Someone, for instance, may go on holiday and drink over 100 units a week for two weeks but when they return home reduce their alcohol use to around 20 units a week. They would not be considered dependent however their holiday use is hazardous and harmful. Their 20 units per week could also be considered hazardous and harmful.

Someone who drinks around 100 units ,on average, every week would be considered physically dependent on alcohol. If they were to stop their alcohol use suddenly then they may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Dependency means a person is unable to function without the use of alcohol. It also means that alcohol has become a very important part of their life and that the person has to drink more alcohol for the desired effect.

The range of dependence will range from moderately dependent at the lower end of the spectrum, where memory loss, anxiety, depression and slight tremors are felt to severely dependent where severe withdrawal symptoms, seizures, and hallucinations are common.

Severely dependent alcohol users may eventually arrive at alcohol agencies or services when they are drinking, on average, 300 units per week regularly.

Tips to Reduce Drinking
To stay healthier when drinking alcohol it is advisable to stay within the recommended sensible limits.

Why Reduce
Regular Drinking at risky or harmful levels can eventually lead to serious health consequences.
You can have a good night out drinking alcohol without drinking it to excess.

It does not take much to make a change for the better and little changes can make a huge difference.


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