Alcohol Advice – How Many Units of Alcohol?

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Alcohol Advice - How Many Units of Alcohol?
What is alcohol? In its purest form alcohol is known as Ethanol.  The ethanol content in a drink is measured in terms of the volume fraction of ethanol, shown either as a percentage (ABV) or in units.
Ethanol is described as a colourless volatile flammable liquid, which is produced by the natural fermentation of sugars. Alcohol is a powerful psychoactive drug, which has a significant effect on mood and behaviour and people are often surprised to find it is a depressant and NOT a stimulant.  This is just one of the reasons it can have dangerous consequences, especially when mixing it with other drugs (both prescribed and illicit). What is a unit of alcohol? One unit equals 10 ml or 8 g of pure alcohol (ethanol) and units are a simple way of expressing the quantity of pure alcohol in a drink.  The number of units in a drink are based on the size of the drink, as well as its alcohol strength. In 2016, the UK’s chief medical officers reviewed and introduced new alcohol guidelines for the first time in 20 years.  The NHS recommendations are now the same for both men and women, and advise limiting alcohol consumption to no more than 14 units a week over the course of 3 days or more – this is classed as lower risk.  The reason for the change in guidance is to help reduce the risk of the many physical and mental health illnesses that are now associated with alcohol. Binge drinking: UK researchers commonly define binge drinking as consuming more than 6 units of alcohol in a single session.  Drinking a toxic amount of alcohol over a short space of time, such as on a night out, puts you at high risk of alcohol poisoning as the body does not have enough time to process it all. Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning: The signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Severely slurred speech
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Stupor (conscious but non-responsive)
  • Passing out and being unconscious
  • Hypothermia (caused by low body temperature)
In the most severe cases, alcohol poisoning can lead to coma, brain damage and death. Contrary to popular belief, an intoxicated person should not be left alone to ‘sleep it off’.  The level of alcohol in the blood can continue to rise for up to 30-40 minutes after their last drink and this can cause their symptoms to suddenly become much more severe.  Other myths are to give coffee, encourage a cold shower and walk the person around – these will not help someone to ‘sober up’ and could even be dangerous. If you suspect alcohol poisoning, NHS recommend that you dial 999 to request an ambulance. Knowing your units helps you stay in control of your drinking and it is also important to understand how long alcohol will stay in your system.   Alcohol is absorbed quickly into your body (much quicker than food) and it takes approximately 1 hour for the liver to filter 1 unit of alcohol from the blood and this is based on a healthy liver.   Coffee, showers, food and fresh air will not shorten this, as only time can remove alcohol from the bloodstream.   Some of the more obvious reasons for an awareness of this are: looking after children, driving and operating machinery. It is very easy to get confused with alcohol units, due to the different sizes of bottles and measures served, but once a person becomes aware of the units in their size and drink of choice, it gets easier to start adding up. Below gives some examples:

Carling 4.1%

1 x 500 ml can = 2.1 units

1 pint = 2.3 units

Stella Artois 4.8% 1 x 500 ml can = 2.4 units 1 pint = 2.7 units Strongbow Cider 5.3% 1 x 500 ml can = 2.7 units 1 pint = 3 units

Guinness 4.2%

1 x 500 ml can = 2.1 units

1 pint = 2.3 units

Tennants Super 9% 1 x 500 ml can = 4.5 units 1 pint = 5.1 units

Wine 12%

1 x 250ml large glass = 3 units

1 bottle = 9 units

Spirits 37.5%

1 x 25 ml single shot = 0.93 units

1 x 700 ml bottle = 26.3 units

1 Litre bottle = 37.5 units

For a full unit guide, read more at our Alcohol Units Guide. A process that works well when working with a person that drinks wine is to do a comparison of their units to content to a bottle of spirits.  Some examples are a bottle of 12% wine (9 units) equates to 1/3rd of 70 cl bottle of whisky.  6 pints of a standard larger (13.8 units) equates to approximately ½ bottle of whisky. Alcohol awareness week is 19th to 25th November and the theme for 2018 is change. To see how much you are drinking on a daily basis, use our drinks journal to understand your alcohol consumption.

About Author

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.

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