How much is too much?

Many people drink alcohol and the majority do so without any problems. Drinking can be enjoyable and sometimes helps you to unwind or relax. But heavy drinking, getting drunk or drinking at the wrong time or in the wrong situation can lead to a range of difficulties.

How would you describe your drinking?  Most people say "a little" or "a moderate amount" and many people know about the sensible drinking limits - yet many people are drinking over these limits.

If you are concerned about your own drinking or worried about a family member or friend, we hope that you will find the information on these pages useful, but if you need help or advice you should call the national drink helpline - DRINKLINE: 0300 123 1110, or speak to your GP.

What is a unit?

Units were introduced as a means of measuring the amount of alcohol in a drink.  One UK unit is 10 ml. or eight grams of pure alcohol.  A typical pint of bitter contains one or two units, whilst a glass of wine can contain anything from around one and a half to three units, depending on the size of the glass and the strength of the wine.


How to calculate units

You can calculate the number of units in a drink by multiplying the amount in millilitres (ml) by the strength (ABV) and dividing the result by 1000.  An easier way is to use a unit calculator - such as the one on the NHS Choices website.

Once you know how to work out alcohol units, it is then easier to measure how much you are drinking and whether you need to cut down.  One way of doing this is by keeping a drinks diary - noting what you drink, where and how much.  You can see a sample online drinks diary on Alcohol Concern's Drinkwise Wales website, or download the NHS desk-top drinks tracker or the NHS drinks tracker 'app' for your mobile phone.


Am I drinking too much?

The daily recommended sensible drinking limits are:

  • men should not regularly drink more than three to four units of alcohol per day
  • women should not regularly drink more than two to three units of alcohol per day
  • you should take a break for 48-hours after a heavy drinking session to let you body recover.

There is no guaranteed safe level of drinking, but if you drink below the recommended daily limits, the risks of harming your health are low.  They do not apply to women who are pregnant (or trying to conceive) or young people.

The unit guidance applies to any day when you drink - whether that is most days, once a week, or occasionally.  Most people drink different amounts on different occasions.  Not drinking on some days does not mean that you can drink more than the daily limit on another day.  The guidelines provide a maximum limit about how much alcohol your body can deal with on one day - whilst minimising the risks of harm to your health.


Alcohol and pregnancy

The NHS recommends that pregnant women or women trying to conceive should avoid drinking alcohol. If you do choose to drink, then protect your baby by not drinking more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week, and don't get drunk.  Additional advice from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) advises women to avoid alcohol in the first three months in particular, because of the increased risk of miscarriage.

For more information on alcohol and pregnancy visit the NHS Choices website.

Alcohol and young people

Young people are much more susceptible to the effects of alcohol than adults.  The government recommends that children aged under-15 should never be given alcohol, even in small quantities.

For further information download a copy of the Chief Medical Officer's guidance on the consumption of alcohol by children and young people from the Department of Health website.


How to cut down

The NHS Choices website provides guidance and advice about how to cut down your drinking.   If you find it difficult to cut down or if you think you may have a problem with your drinking, call DRINKLINE who can provide confidential information and advice and put you in touch with local alcohol services: 0300 123 1110.  Alternatively, speak to your GP. 

Staying safe

If you are worried about using this website, see our staying safe guidelines

Help & advice

If you need help or advice, you should call the national drink helpline - DRINKLINE - on 0300 123 1110

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