Alcohol unit guidelines

The Chief Medical Officers (CMO) guideline for both men and women states that:

  • 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
  • If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it's best to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days. If you have one or two heavy drinking episoides a week, you increase your risk of death from long-term illness and injuries
  • The risk of developing a range of health problems (including cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases the more you drink on a regular basis
  • If you wish to cut down the amount you drink, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days a week. 

Single occasion drinking

The Chief Medical Officers' (CMO) advice for men and women who want to keep their short term health risks from single occasion drinking to a low level is to reduce them by: 

  • Limiting the total amount of alcohol you drink on any single occasion
  • Drinking more slowly, drinking with food, and alternating with water
  • Planning ahead to avoid problems; an example of planning ahead is making sure you can get home safely or that you have people you trust with you. 

The sorts of things that are more likely to happen if you do not understand and judge correctly the risks of drinking too much on a single occasion can include: 

  • Accidents resulting in injury; causing death in some cases 
  • Misjudging risky situations
  • Losing self-control (for example, engaging in unprotected sex)

Some groups of people are more likey to be affected by alcohol and should be more careful of their drinking on any one occasion. For example those people at risk of falls, on medication that may interact with alcohol or where it may exacerbate pre-existing physical and mental health problems.

If you are a regular weekly drinker and you wish to keep both your short and long term health risks from drinking low, this single occasion drinking advice is also relevant for you. 

How much is 14 units of alcohol?

One unit is 10ml of pure alcohol. Because alcoholic drinks come in different strengths and sizes units are a good way of telling how strong your drink is. It’s not as simple as one drink, one unit.

The new alcohol unit guidelines are equivalent to six pints of average strength beer or six 175ml glasses of average strength wine.

If you would like help tracking your drinking and get help and advice to drink within the recommended limits, download our free Drinkaware: Track and Calculate Units app.

Find out more about what a unit is

Use our unit and calorie calculator to find out exactly what’s in your drinks.

Alcohol and pregnancy

The Chief Medical Officers' (CMO) guidance is that:

  • If you are pregnant or think you could become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum. 
  • Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink the greater the risk. 

What if I’ve already drunk alcohol in pregnancy?

The risk of harm to the baby is likely to be low if you have drunk only small amounts of alcohol before you knew you were pregnant or during pregnancy.

If you find out you are pregnant after you have drunk alcohol during early pregnancy, you should avoid further drinking. You should be aware that it is unlikely in most cases that your baby has been affected.

If you’re worried about having drunk alcohol during pregnancy, talk to your doctor or midwife.

We have more information about alcohol and pregnancy.

Source: The Chief Medical Officers' Low Risk Drinking Guidelines are available online at: 

www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/545937/UK_CMOs__report.pdf