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Alcohol Units

Alcohol Units

Although lots of people talk about alcohol units, what do they actually mean? The information here will tell you all that you need to know to understand them and provide links to online resources to find out more. 


Why should we know about units?

The unit system is a guide to safe alcohol consumption. The lower risk drink guidelines are given in units so it is important that we know what units are in which drinks.



Adults:The Chief Medical Officers guidelinefor both men and women states that: To keep health risks from alcoholto 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. Further information can be found at https://alcoholchange.org.uk/ including an online unit calculator. 

Young People:Chief Medical Officer (CMO) guidance states that an alcohol free childhood up to 18 is the healthiest and best option. More information about alcohol and young people can be found at https://whatstheharm.co.uk/


But what is a unit?

Units are a simple way of expressing the quantity of pure alcohol in a drink. One unit is equivalent to 10ml of pure alcohol. Units measure the amount of alcohol.


What is ABV (%)?

If an alcoholic drink has an ABV (Alcohol by Volume) of 4 % it would mean that there is 4% of pure alcohol in every 100 ml of the drink. ABV shows how strong the drink is. 

All drinks should display the ABV (%) and how many units of alcohol they contain, but there is a way of working it out for yourself if you know theStrength (ABV %)and the Volume (mls)

The calculation is ABV (%) x Volume (mls) ÷ 1000 


Large glass (400ml) of strong cider (ABV: 7.5 %)

400ml (volume) x 7.5 % (ABV) = 3000

3003 ÷ 1000 = 3 

Units in the glass of cider = 3 units 


The following alcoholic drinks are equivalent to around a 1 unit of alcohol:

  • HALFa pint (284ml) of beer or lager (4 % ABV) = 1.2 Units
  • One SINGLEshot (25 ml) of whisky (40% ABV) = 1 Unit.
  • HALF a standard glass (175 ml) of wine (12% ABV) = 1 unit.
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