New weekly guidelines for people who drink regularly or frequently:
The proposed guidelines say that any level of drinking raises the risk of a range of illnesses that include cancers of the mouth, throat and breast.
Women and men are advised to drink no more than 14 units per week to keep their health risks at a low level.
The guidelines recommend that it is best to spread the amount of alcohol consumed over 3 days or more. Having one or two heavy drinking sessions increases the risks of death from long-term illnesses and accidents and injuries.
The guidelines also advise that a good way to reduce alcohol intake is to have several alcohol-free days a week.
Short-term risks can be avoided by limiting the amount of alcohol consumed on any one occasion, drinking more slowly, and drinking with food and alternating with water.
For pregnant women, or those planning a pregnancy, the guidelines say the safest approach is to drink no alcohol at all to keep risks to the foetus to a minimum.
The advice is that drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink, the greater the risk.
Alcohol also affects your ability to exercise. Use the handy drink diary on the following page to record how many units you drink in a week by following four easy steps.
Download our Drink Diary
- For each day write down all the alcoholic drinks you consume including the type of drink, the glass or container size and the alcoholic strength
- Write down how many units are in each drink using the ‘drinks and units’ table below or the online drink calculator at www.nhs.uk/units
- Add up the total number of units for each day and write it down in the last column. The online drink calculator will add up the number of units for you.
- Once you have completed the table for each day take a look at the totals. If you are regularly exceeding the recommended daily guidelines of 3-4 units for men and 2-3 for women, you should consider cutting back.For more information on the health impacts of alcohol and for tips of how to drink less, log on to www.nhs.uk/units.
If you are concerned about how much alcohol you are drinking you can phone Drinkline on 0800 876 6778 or see your GP.
Drinks and Units
|Beer, Lager, Cider||Bottle (330ml)||Can (440ml)||Pint (568ml)||Litre|
|2% (Low Alcohol)||0.7 units||0.39 units||1.1 units||2 units|
|4%||1.3 units||1.8 units||2.3 units||4 units|
|5%||1.7 units||2.2 units||2.8 units||5 units|
|6%||2 units||2.6 units||3.4 units||6 units|
|9% (“Super Strength”)||3 units||4 units||5.1 units||9 units|
|Alcopops||1 bottle (275ml)|
|Wine & Champagne
(red, white, rose or sparking)
|6%||0.8 units||1 unit||1.5 units||4.5 units|
|7%||0.9 units||1.2 units||1.8 units||5.5 units|
|10%||1.25 units||1.75 units||2.5 units||7.5 units|
|11%||1.4 units||1.9 units||2.6 units||8.3 units|
|12%||1.5 units||2.1 units||3 units||9 units|
|13%||1.6 units||2.3 units||3.3 units||9.8 units|
|Fortified wine (sherry &port)||Standard measure|
|17.5% – 20%||0.9 – 1 unit|
|Spirits, shots (gin, rum, vodka,
Whisky, tequila, sambuca)
|Small measure||Large measure||Spirits, small
|38-40%||1 unit||1.3 – 1.4 units||1.9 – 2 units||2.7 – 2.8 units|
If you regularly drink more than the recommended limits, try these simple tips to help you cut down.
Make a plan
Before you start drinking, set a limit on how much you’re going to drink.
Set a budget
Only take a fixed amount of money to spend on alcohol.
Let them know
If you let your friends and family know you’re cutting down and that it’s important to you, you could get support from them.
Take it a day at a time
Cut back a little each day. That way, every day you do is a success.
Make it a smaller one
You can still enjoy a drink but go for smaller sizes. Try bottled beer instead of pints, or a small glass of wine instead of a large one.
Have a lower-strength drink
Cut down the alcohol by swapping strong beers or wines for ones with a lower strength (ABV in %). You’ll find this information on the bottle.
Drink a pint of water before you start drinking, and don’t use alcohol to quench your thirst. Have a soft drink instead.
Take a break
Have the odd day each week when you don’t have an alcoholic drink.
Opt out of rounds
Drinking in rounds can make you drink a lot faster than you’d like or realise. Opt out or try buying drinks with a smaller group of friends instead.
Watch out for cocktails
They can contain more alcohol than you might think.
Spread out your drinks throughout the night
This will help your units go further.
Try smaller measures
Rather than sticking to pints, try sipping halves, go for a bottled beer or if you are drinking wine, opt for a small glass.
Try a more diluted alcoholic drink such as a spritzer or shandy.
Space with soft drinks
Have a soft drink or two with each alcoholic drink to help you stay hydrated
The immediate effects of cutting down include
- feeling better in the mornings
- being less tired during the day
- your skin may start to look better
- you’ll start to feel fitter
- you may stop gaining weight
Long-term benefits include:
There’s a strong link between heavy drinking and depression, and hangovers often make you feel anxious and low. If you already feel anxious or sad, drinking can make this worse, so cutting down may put you in a better mood generally.
Drinking can affect your sleep. Although it can help some people fall asleep quickly, it can disrupt your sleep patterns and stop you from sleeping deeply. So cutting down on alcohol should help you feel more rested when you wake up.
Drinking can affect your judgement and behaviour. You may behave irrationally or aggressively when you’re drunk. Memory loss can be a problem during drinking and in the long term for regular heavy drinkers.
Long-term heavy drinking can lead to your heart becoming enlarged. This is a serious condition that can’t be completely reversed, but stopping drinking can stop it getting worse.
Regular drinking can affect your immune system. Heavy drinkers tend to catch more infectious diseases.
What or when are the times when you are more likely to drink or use? If you can see the patterns, then maybe you can do something about those situations, and do something different.
- Certain people?
- A particular time?
- A familiar place?
- Seeing certain things?
- Hearing certain things?
- Thinking about certain situations?
- Feeling stressed, anxious, angry, sad….?
- Thinking self-critical thoughts?
Understanding why you use substances is important and is a good opportunity to look at your motivation. Having motivation to not only stop the drinking or drug taking, but making changes that will affect your whole lifestyle is crucial. It is a good idea to make a list of the pros and cons of substance use. Think about what you do get out of it, what you don’t like about it and what effects it has on different parts of your life.
- Seek help – others will support you if they see you’re committed to making changes
- Remind yourself of your pros/cons and why you are motivated to make changes. Write down all the reasons you want to stay dry/clean, make copies; carry one around with you, put others in prominent places.
- Set goals on what you hope to achieve
- Identify your triggers and trigger situations that might make you more likely to drink or use
- Consider and find out about local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or other similar and relevant support group – for yourself and perhaps for your family
- Start a healthy exercise plan and try to drink 6-8 glasses of water every day
- Use medication appropriately and only as prescribed
- Avoid social situations where you’re more likely to feel tempted and give in to cravings
- Take up a new hobby
- Practice saying “No, I don’t drink” or “No, I don’t use”
Don’t forget to congratulate yourself when you successfully overcome the cravings. You could set up a reward system so you can pamper or treat yourself, initially after each successful day, then bigger treats for successful weeks etc. Ensure the treats don’t involve temptation
Drinkers check up website can also provide a useful forum to consider possible changes to alcohol use and what those changes might look like. It is based on gathering information and providing tailored feedback to help you understand the risks and to make the right changes for you. It can be found here.