Low risk drinking

Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol doesn't often cause any serious problems. However, drinking too much can be harmful. You may not realise if the amount you drink is more than the recommended limit, so it's important that you keep an eye on how much you're drinking.

Recommended limits

Medical guidelines for both men and women are that:

  • to keep health risks from drinking alcohol to a low level, you should not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week
  • if you do drink as much as 14 units per week, it is better to spread this evenly over three days or more because if you have one or two heavy drinking sessions, you increase your risks of death from long term illnesses and from accidents and injuries

Advice on single episodes of drinking

Medical guidelines advise men and women who wish to keep their short term health risks from a single drinking occasion to a low level that they can reduce these risks by:

  • limiting the total amount of alcohol you drink on any occasion
  • drinking alcohol more slowly
  • eating food while drinking alcohol
  • alternating alcoholic drinks with glasses of water
  • avoiding situations and activities which could endager themselves and those around them
  • making sure you have people you know around you to ensure you can get home safely

Alcohol and pregnancy

Medical guidelines are that:

  • if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum
  • drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink the greater the risk

What is a unit of alcohol?

One unit of alcohol is equivalent to 10 ml of pure alcohol.

You can find out exactly how many units of alcohol are in what you're drinking by checking the label, or you can use the Public Health Agency's unit calculator on the Know Your Limits website to find out how many units are in different alcoholic drinks.

This will help you get an idea of how many units you are actually drinking.

As a summary:

  • 1 x pint (568ml) standard beer 4% alcohol = 2.3 units
  • 1 x small bottle (187.5ml) wine 12% alcohol =  2.3 units
  • 1 x bottle (330ml) bottle 5% premium lager = 1.7 units
  • 1 x measure (35ml) whiskey 40% alcohol = 1.4 units
  • 1 x measure (35ml) vodka 37.5% alcohol =  1.3 units

How long alcohol stays in your bloodstream

On average, the body can break down alcohol at a rate of one unit per hour depending on:

  • your weight
  • your sex
  • your age
  • your metabolism
  • your stress levels
  • the amount of food you have eaten
  • medication taken
  • type of alcohol consumed

If you get drunk, avoid alcohol for 48 hours afterwards to give your body time to recover.

When not to drink

You shouldn't drink if a doctor or other health professional has advised you to stop. You should also avoid alcohol:

  • before or when driving
  • before or when operating machinery and equipment
  • if you are taking part in active sport
  • if you are trying to become pregnant
  • if you are pregnant

Health risks

The misuse and abuse of alcohol can lead to a wide range of health problems. In the short term it may cause you to experience drowsiness, tension, dehydration, or unconsciousness.

Long term, it is known to contribute to more serious health problems, including liver damage, cancer, heart disease or even death.

Getting support and treatment

As well as your local doctor, there are a range of local support organisations that can offer information, advice and guidance as well as treatment and support.

You can find information on alcohol support services in your area at the link below:

More useful links

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