What you need to know about spirits
Find out everything you need to know about spirits
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All spirits – including vodka, gin, rum, whisky and brandy – are strong alcoholic drinks. They typically range in strength from 37.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) up to sometimes above 50% ABV.
The health risks from drinking alcohol are related to how much you drink and your drinking behaviour, rather than the type of drink. Because spirits are stronger than other types of alcoholic drinks, there are some things to bear in mind to keep your drinking low risk. Read on to find out more.
Never buy ‘fake’ spirits. Illegally produced and counterfeit spirits can contain dangerous types of alcohol and chemicals used in products such as nail polish remover and antifreeze – causing a risk of nausea, blindness and even death.
Dangers of fake alcohol
Alcohol units are a way to understand how much alcohol is in a particular drink, and to compare between drinks of different strengths and sizes.
One unit of alcohol is 10ml (millilitres) of pure alcohol. Because spirits are strong, which means the drink contains much more concentrated alcohol, you will find 1 unit in a single measure of typical (40% ABV) spirits – that’s 25ml of liquid.
The risk of developing a range of health problems increases the more you drink on a regular basis.1 But, if you choose to drink, the health risks from alcohol are the same whether you drink spirits, beer, wine or any other alcoholic drink.
To keep your risk low, the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines advise that it’s safest to drink no more than 14 units a week (for both men and women). It’s also important to spread any drinking over three or more days, with several drink-free days and no bingeing.
Spirits are sometimes called 'shorts'. In a bar or pub they’re served in ‘single’ measures of 25ml or 35ml, or ‘double’ measures of 50ml.
Shots can be a single spirit, or two or more mixed together. Although spirits are often sipped or drunk slowly as part of larger drinks with mixers, shots are designed to be drunk in one go, and they hit the bloodstream very fast if consumed on an empty stomach.2
Rapid drinking of any alcoholic drink can be dangerous. Our bodies typically can only process about one unit of alcohol an hour, and less for many people. If you drink several shots in a short time, the large concentration of alcohol in your blood can stop the body from working properly – putting you at risk of acute alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal.
Although many people use mixers with spirits and drink them slowly, spirits can also be consumed quickly, which may mean you’ll drink more than you want, faster than you’d like. This can make you more vulnerable – you’re more likely to have an accident or injure yourself after drinking heavily.3
Unless you’re careful how you pour them, drinks made at home can contain more alcohol than the measures served in a pub or bar, which can make it hard to track how much alcohol you’re drinking.
Using a measure, like our unit measuring cup, can provide a more accurate pour than just measuring “by eye”.
Soft drinks used as mixers can mask the taste of alcohol too – making it harder to work out how strong a drink really is. We have some great tips and tricks to help you reduce how much you drink at home, and to stay in control on a night out.
Cocktails can sometimes contain a lot of alcohol as well. For instance, even when accurately measured, a Negroni can include three shots of three different alcoholic drinks – one spirit and two liqueurs (types of flavoured spirits which usually range from 15-30% ABV). That could equal two units of alcohol in just 75ml of liquid - the same as a whole pint of regular strength beer.
From alcohol-free ’spirits’ to retro-cool ginger beer, there’s more choice than ever before if you want an alternative to drinking alcohol. So why not try something new?
Some brands offer spirits with an ABV much higher than the typical 40% of many brands - these are sometimes called ‘craft’ spirits, or ‘cask strength’. Check the side of the bottle, or ask at the bar, to see how strong your drink is.
Mixing energy drinks and spirits means taking on caffeine as well as alcohol. Caffeine can keep you awake for longer, masking the effects of alcohol and potentially drinking more than they would normally, causing them to become “wide awake drunk”. Find out more about why it can be dangerous to mix alcohol and energy drinks.
 Mitchell, M. C., Teigen, E. L., & Ramchandani, V. A. (2014). Absorption and Peak Blood Alcohol Concentration After Drinking Beer, Wine, or Spirits. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, 38(5), 1200–1204. https://doi.org/10.1111/acer.12355
Last Reviewed: 16th May 2023
Next Review due: 26th April 2026