The UK Chief Medical Officers' (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines recommend that to keep the risk from alcohol low both men and women should not regularly drink more than 14 units a week. If you do choose to drink, it is best to spread your drinks evenly throughout the week.
So what does that mean for single-session drinking, or binge drinking?
The NHS defines binge drinking as “drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time or drinking to get drunk”.1
Because everybody is different, it is not easy to say exactly how many units in one session count as binge drinking. The definition used by the Office of National Statistics for binge drinking is having over 8 units in a single session for men and over 6 units per women.2
Of course, people may drink at different speeds or drink over a different amount of time and this definition may not apply to everyone.
What we can say is that the risks of short-term harms like accidents or injuries increase between two to five times from drinking five-seven units.3 This is equivalent to 2-3 pints of beer.
The sorts of things more likely to happen when people drink too much or too quickly on a single occasion include accidents resulting in injury, misjudging risky situations or losing self-control.
If you do choose to drink, it’s best to spread your drinks evenly throughout the week. If you wish to cut down the amount of alcohol you’re drinking, a good way to do this is to have several drink-free days per week.
Other ways to keep the risk from alcohol low the government recommend that you should:
- Limit the total amount of alcohol that you drink on any one occasion.
- Drink more slowly, alternate drinks with water and drink with food
- Avoid risky places and activities; make sure you are with people that you know and that you know how to get home safely.
Some of the short term harms that can happen include accidents resulting in injury (causing death in some cases), misjudging risky situations, and losing self-control.4
Your body can only process one unit of alcohol per hour (watch our What is a Unit? animation to find out more).
Two large glasses of wine may not seem like very much. But drinking six units of alcohol in a short space of time – an hour, say – will raise your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and could make you drunk very quickly.
Drinking the same amount over several hours as well as eating food will have less effect on your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
Getting drunk can affect your physical and mental health:
- Accidents and falls are common because being drunk affects your balance and co-ordination. In extreme cases, you could die. Overdosing on alcohol can stop you breathing or stop your heart, or you could choke on your vomit.
- Binge drinking can affect your mood and your memory and, in the longer term, can lead to serious mental health problems.
Even if you don't drink alcohol every day, you could be a binge drinker if you:
- Regularly drink more than the low risk drinking guidelines in a single session
- Tend to drink quickly
- Sometimes drink to get drunk
If you find it hard to stop drinking once you have started, you could also have a problem with binge drinking and possibly alcohol dependence.
A good place to start is taking our confidential Alcohol-Self Assessment Test.
If you’re worried about your drinking habits, contact your GP. They will be able to suggest ways to help you cut down your drinking, and can also refer you for counselling or support services.
You can also call Drinkline, the national alcohol helpline, on 0300 123 1110. It’s free and confidential.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a support group for people who are dependent on alcohol. There are branches all over the country. Call 0845 769 7555.
(1) NHS Choices website, Binge Drinking. The Information Standard member organisation. Page last reviewed: 31/12/2014. Available at:
(2) Office of National Statistics (2015), Adult Drinking Habits in Great Britain, 2013. Accessed on: 25 February 2015. Available at:
(3) Department of Health (2016), UK Chief Medical Officers’ Alcohol Guidelines Review: Summary of the proposed new guidelines. Available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/489795/summary.pdf
(4) Department of Health, Alcohol Guidelines Review – Report from the Guidelines development group to the UK Chief Medical Officers (2016). Available at:
(5) Health & Social Care Information Centre, Statistics on Alcohol - England, 2015. Available at: