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You can find a plethora of alcoholic drinks in pubs and stores in the UK. Some beverages like lager and wine are bonded with British identity and are a popular choice all around the country. From football matches to social gatherings, drinks are always there.

Celebratory drinks during special occasions and are pretty fun. However, binge drinking regularly can be dangerous, and we strongly recommend against it.We recommend you maintain a healthy drinking habit by following NHS guidelines for alcohol consumptions. By staying below the low-risk amount, you can minimise the risk of addiction and long-term damages. We have covered the topic of alcohol addiction before. If you or someone you know struggles with alcohol addiction, please feel free to contact us today at Help4addiction.

Alcoholic beverages

Alcoholic beverages are mainly divided into two types–fermented and distilled drinks. The drinks we consume are mixed with ethyl alcohol or ethanol.

Ethanol is ingestible alcohol produced by the fermentation of grains, fruits or other food sources containing alcohol. Ethanol is toxic for your body which is why as soon as you ingest it, your body begins working to remove it as quickly as possible. The liver is responsible for breaking down ethanol so that alcohol can be removed from your body.

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How does alcohol work on the body?

Biologically ethanol acts as a depressant of the central nervous system. In simpler words, any alcohol consumed produces its effects by working directly on your brain. It acts as a sedative, making you feel physically and mentally relaxed. When taken in excess, this can impair the movements, thinking and decision making. Therefore, it is crucial for anyone drinking to know how much alcohol they are ingesting and their limits.

How is Alcohol Concentration Measured?

The percentage of alcohol contained in a drink is commonly referred to as ABV or alcohol by volume. This is the number of millilitres of liquor contained in 100 ml of the glass. Another system of measuring alcohol contents is the U.S proofs which are double the ABV of the glass. So, if a drink has 10% ABV, it has 20 proofs.

Fermented vs distilled alcohol

Alcohol drinks can be divided into two main categories based on how they are produced: Distilled drinks and fermented drinks. Let’s dive into what these terms mean.

Alcoholic fermentation is a biological process through which yeast converts sugar to ethanol, carbon dioxide, heat, and water. Humans have been using this process to produce alcoholic beverages for ages. The process, however, is self-limiting as at around 15-20% ABV, the yeast begins to die. This means fermented or undistilled drinks cannot have more than 15-20% ABV. Common examples of undistilled beverages include beer, wine, cider, and mead.

Distilled drinks take alcohol levels a step further by adding a step of distillation. Distillation is a process through which alcohol is separated from the fermented liquid. This is done by boiling the liquid. Since alcohol has a lower boiling point, alcohol vapour can effectively be collected and cooled down to form concentrated alcohol. Flavours and other ingredients can then be added to give the drink its taste. Popular distilled drinks include vodka, gin, whiskey, rum, and many more. Distilled beverages are also frequently referred to as spirits or liquor.

Some of the popular fermented drinks are

Beer

Beer is by far the most consumed alcoholic beverage consumed in the world. It is also one of the oldest drinks known to humanity. It is simple to make and is usually brewed using cereal grains, yeast, hops, and water. Grains that are commonly used include wheat, barley, corn, and rice. Beers can be divided into ales and lager. The difference in both is the type of yeast used as well as the method of fermentation. Ales are produced at warm temperatures and typically take 1 to 5 weeks to produce, while lager is made in colder temperatures and takes up to 8 weeks to ferment completely. The alcohol content in commercially available beer usually ranges from 0% to 7% ABV. Most pale ales and lagers contain 4 % ABV. A pint of such a beer contains 2.3 units of alcohol.

Wine

Wine is another alcoholic drink commonly used to complement meals. It is produced by fermenting grapes. Grapes of various regions and different yeast strains are used to make the variety of wines available to us. Typical wines are categorised into white, red, rose, sparkling and fortified.

  • White wine is produced by removing the skin of the grape before fermenting
  • Red wine is produced by fermenting black grapes with its skin on.
  • Rose wine is produced by removing the skin midway when the wine producer is content with the colour produced.
  • Sparkling or bubbly wine contains carbon dioxide, which is a natural byproduct of fermentation.


Most wines contain 12% ABV, but this may vary from 10 to 14% ABV. However, fortified wines may contain up to 20% ABV. Fortified wines such as Sherry and Port usually have a distilled spirit such as brandy added to them to boost their alcoholic content. Consuming a standard 175 ml glass of 12% ABV wine makes up 2.1 units of alcohol consumed.

Cider

The fermentation of apples produces ciders while perry is produced by the fermenting of pears. Cider is a drink consumed more in the UK and Europe than in the rest of the world. There are laws in the UK stating that cider has to contain at least 35% apple juice. It can include anywhere from 3% to 13% ABV depending on the brand but usually is around 4 to 5% ABV. A pint of 5% cider would therefore make up two units of alcohol.

Mead

Mead is another popular fermented drink made by fermenting honey and occasionally adding additional flavours or grains. Mead is known to be one of the preferred drinks of the Greek era. The alcoholic concentration for this drink ranges from 3.5% to 20% ABV.

Some of the popular distilled drinks are

Vodka

Vodka is a drink made by distilling fluid obtained from fermenting cereal grains (primarily potatoes). It consists mainly of alcohol and water but sometimes contains tiny amounts of flavouring and impurities that give each brand of tequila a unique taste. It is a clear, colourless liquid and is frequently drunk neat. It is also used in cocktails and mixed with juices to produce a variety of drinks. The alcohol level in pure vodka is mostly around 40% ABV.  As such a single 25 ml shot of vodka makes up 1 unit of alcohol.

Gin

Gin is made by distilling fermented juniper berries. Gin was initially produced in the 11th century and used as medicine to treat coughs, cramps, and flu. Even today, various herbs are added to gin, resulting in the wide variety of gin available for purchase. Gin generally have a high alcoholic content ranging from 35% to 55% ABV. Most gins have an alcohol concentration of 40% ABV. As such a single 25 ml shot of vodka makes up 1 unit of alcohol.

Whiskey

Distilling fermented grain mash produces whiskey. It is often left in wooden casks to age and ‘mature’. Alcohol concentration for this drink ranges from 40 to 68% ABV, with 40% and 43% being the most common concentrations. Therefore, a single 25 ml shot of whiskey makes up 1 unit of alcohol.

Rum

Rum is made by fermenting and then distilling sugarcane juice. There is a spectrum of grades in rum and can be categorised by its colour and added flavours. Light rums, dark rums, flavoured rums, spiced rums, and overproof rums are all kinds of rums that are commercially available. Rums have a standard alcohol content of 40% ABV, but overproof rums can contain up to 80% ABV. Usually, a 25 ml shot of rum makes up 1 unit of alcohol.

Tequila

Tequila is a distilled drink produced from the blue agave plant, which is majorly grown in the area surrounding the city of Tequila in Mexico. It is commonly consumed as a shot worldwide. It can contain anywhere between 38 per cent to 55 per cent ABV but usually has 40%. As such a single 25 ml shot of tequila makes up 1 unit of alcohol.

Brandy

Brandy is produced by distilling wine. The term fruit brandy is also used to describe any drink made by distilling fermented fruit such as apples, pears, and apricots. It is usually consumed at room temperature and is often used in mixes and cocktails. It is also a common ingredient added to soups, sauces, cakes, and pudding to give dishes an extra splash of flavour. Brandy usually consists of a 35% to 60% ABV, with most of them containing 40% ABV. Therefore, a single 25 ml serving of vodka makes up 1 unit of alcohol.

Absinthe

It is a spirit with high alcohol levels, usually around 45 to 74% ABV. Some modern absinthe’s can even have up to 90% ABV. It is anise flavoured and is produced using plants, herbs, and flowers of different types.

Alcopops

These are a group of alcoholic beverages that do not come under the umbrella of distilled or fermented drinks. Instead, they are flavoured alcoholic beverages containing a low alcohol content of 3 to 7 % ABV. Their usual serving is 355ml and usually come in cans and bottles that catch the eye. They are often sweet, maybe fruit-flavoured or fizzy. Some typical flavours include lemonade, cola, and apple juice. The main danger with these is that they appeal to the younger generation and have caused a massive media uproar, often accused of marketing to underage drinkers.

Though this article highlights the usual alcoholic content of most drinks, it is crucial to remember that there is no strict regulatory requirement for companies, so there is a broad spectrum for any type of drink. You can quickly check the ABV of your particular drink by checking labels on your bottles or cans, or you can simply ask your bartender about it.

Frequently asked questions

Everclear’s alcoholic spirit contains a whopping 95% ABV making it the strongest commercially available alcoholic drink.
We recommend avoiding any drink with alcohol. If that’s not possible, try to stay under NHS recommended units per week.  Consuming more alcohol than your body can cope with can lead to unwanted damage to your health and lifestyle.

Your liver can break down approximately 10 millilitres of alcohol in an hour. This amount is commonly referred to as a unit of alcohol, and you can use it to track how much alcohol you have drunk. The simple formula used to calculate this is:
strength (ABV) x volume (ml) ÷ 1,000 = units

The NHS sets the limit to 3-4 standard units per day for men and 2-3 units a day for women.

When a person drinks alcohol, their body starts to become resistant to its effects, so they need to drink an increased amount to produce the same results or become ‘drunk’.

When a person drinks alcohol, their body starts to become resistant to its effects, so they need to drink an increased amount to produce the same results or become ‘drunk’.Alcohol dependence is when someone’s life starts becoming centred around the consumption of alcohol. They start to become physiologically and physically dependent on alcohol which can be seen as withdrawal symptoms when they begin to avoid alcohol.

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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