After a long day, it is not uncommon to want to kick back and relax with a drink or two. However, many adults in the UK drink too much, which can lead to serious potentially life threatening conditions. NHS guidelines recommend that men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. But what is a unit?

Understanding units

One unit equals to around 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol and is our standard way of measuring the quantity of alcohol in any one drink. The charity Alcohol Change UK provide a useful tool for figuring out how many units are in different drinks – for example, half a pint of average strength lager or a 25ml single measure of spirit is said to contain one unit. The number of units will vary depending on the size of the drink and the strength of the alcohol. Knowing your units will help you to keep control of your drinking.

Advised levels of alcohol

The NHS advise that men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week, which is roughly equivalent to six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine. If you are in the habit of drinking this much per week, then the NHS also advise that this should be spread over three or more days, ideally with drink free days in between. Pregnant women are advised to drink no alcohol at all to keep risk to an unborn baby at a minimum.

There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ drinking level, even if you drink less than 14 units per week. Instead this is referred to as ‘low-risk’ drinking, as the less you drink the lower the chance of developing serious health issues.

Dangers of alcohol

If you regularly drink more than 14 units a week then you are at risk of developing several serious types of illness. These include cancers of the mouth, throat and breast, heart disease, liver disease, brain damage, stroke and damage to the nervous system.

Drinking excessive amounts on any one occasion, or ‘binge drinking’ as it is more commonly known, can also lead to a variety of dangers. You are far more likely to experience an accident resulting in injury or death, finding yourself losing self-control and having unprotected sex, or misjudging risky situations that may lead to you putting your safety at risk.

Binge drinking can also lead to alcohol poisoning, where the alcohol concentration level in your blood reaches toxic and dangerous levels. The most severe cases of alcohol poisoning can lead to coma, heart attack, brain damage, hypothermia, seizure and death.

Cutting down on alcohol

There are many easy ways to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink without cutting it out of your life altogether. The NHS offer several practical solutions to gradually limiting your alcohol intake and outline many short term and long term benefits for doing so.

One way to cut down is to swap drinks of a higher percentage, such as lager or wine, for lower percentage version. Try having a single measure of spirit instead of double, or maybe a smaller bottle of beer as opposed to a can – this way it will feel like you still have a drink, but your alcohol intake will be reduced.

If you drinking when you are out also helps to set a budget. If you only have a set amount of money to spend on alcohol it can save you from being tempted to drink excessive amounts and the cash that you save can be viewed as a reward.

Drinking on an empty stomach allows alcohol to be absorbed into your system more quickly. If you feel like a drink, instead try including it alongside your main meal – you will drink it more slowly and possibly enjoy it more.

Another way the NHS recommends reducing your alcohol intake is to stay hydrated. Have a glass of water before you have alcohol and alternate alcoholic drinks with water or a soft drink.

Finally, if you are planning on cutting down on our alcohol intake, the support of your family and friends will be a big help in sticking to your goals. Inform people close to you of your plans and ask them to help you along the way.

For more advice on how to cut down on your drinking see the NHS Live Well website.