What is one unit of alcohol?

Now I am going to make this a bit easy for you as many sites will give this equation and round it up. It is confusing if I am honest and the question of what is one unit of alcohol can be misinterpreted.

Let’s say that one standard drink equals measure of one unit.

Or let’s put it another way if a bit more complicated.

So take the amount alcohol that you would find in a drink.

Let’s assume we are saying that it is about 10ml or 8g. Now remember we are talking pure alcohol in your drink here not the drink itself.

In the UK that is what is one unit of alcohol .

Now that becomes more difficult when you have bought a glass of wine and you are trying to work out what that means!

I mean really who does that?

And yet its so key!

Big glass, small glass, the size of it, red, white, a short, strength, so crikey no wonder people get confused!

As I write about here we can’t rush how our alcohol is processed and chucked out from the body.

So we are talking about one unit every hour as a rule.

How long it stays in your bloodstream before going to your liver can vary between people depending on body size and gender.

Alcohol will go into your system at a different rate after eating food for example.

This is called BAC and it’s your blood alcohol concentration level.

It is not quite as simple as that but let’s just assume that is the case before we get into the real maths of it.

We make it up!

The thing is we are now so confused by what a unit of alcohol is we make up our own scores.

How many times have you been asked by your Doctor to say how many units of alcohol you drink of alcohol per week?

• The first thing is you do is try and remember what you have had to drink.
• Then you try and remember what is one unit of alcohol is.
• Then you make the figure up anyway in case you look bad.
• You think about what you said for the rest of the day
• By 5pm you have convinced yourself that you were right all along.
• You go to pub, but a large glass of dry white wine because you get the bottle free and tell everyone you are cutting back.
• You remind people the bottle is cheaper than buying one glass.

And so the cycle of what one unit of alcohol is continues.

So let’s work it out by drink, amount and the all important ABV!

So is this 14 units thing what my Doctors talk about?

Now of course I would safely say alcohol is a poison because it is and at the end of the day it disinfects things.

It kills bacteria and at high levels humans as well.

Ever heard of alcohol poisoning? It kills.

Now I was just a social drinker so wine, not even bottle of vodka, so imagine how I felt when I was given 48 hours to live and given my reaction to alcohol its just a big NO for me.

I won’t be able to drink alcohol again and I stopped as soon as I was admitted to hospital seriously ill.

Imagine just being a wine drinker, no park benches, no secret stash just lots of lovely wine with friends.

Now when I went to the Doctor I would make a figure up on how much I drank.

Doctors tell me they do as well by the way.

The fact is a few large glasses of wine after work every night and you are officially an alcoholic although nearly everyone I know would deny it.

They also don’t count their weekend drinking so of course this is just Monday to Thursday.

After all the weekend doesn’t count in terms of units.

My colleague made that quite clear to me when he was talking about his drinking habits and sympathizing or trying to with my alcohol free lifestyle.

In reality, he probably drank more on a work based night out than I could ever drink.

But as we will come to realize when it comes to alcohol we are all different.

The reality is whatever our lifestyle a good medical professional will caution us on our alcohol intake and medically they have decided that 14 units is a guideline.

However, this should often be up in flashing lights.

14 units of alcohol is NOT now a good goal to go for like winning an Olympic medal or a sales target.

“ A few more wines and I have my 14 units per week” is not a good strategy.

And yes I have heard people saying that.

There is no completely safe level of drinking so the advised 14 units is just a guide nothing more and nothing less.

After all we are talking poison here.

Why you should you understand ABV.

ABV is a great tool in anyone’s alcohol reduction template and yet in my experience it is hardly ever acknowledged and the awareness of it is quite low if any of your comments are to go by.

ABV stands for alcohol by volume and it’s very simple really.

It is a percentage of alcohol in your drink.

I told you it was simple!

The bigger the percentage the ABV the more alcohol you are drinking.

Now we are lucky in the alcohol free beer world that many producers are building it into their brand.

San Miguel Beer for example has 0.0 as part of its branding on the front of the bottle and so does Heineken.

Some brands are less obvious especially if they are very alcohol in nature so you will have to hunt down the bottle or the label.

Although bars in the UK do legally have to display this information and it’s often tucked behind a wall on the way to the toilet!

I often ask for it to see how on the ball they are about ABV.

And no I am not being funny about it, it is your right as a consumer to know!

So in the alcohol free world is it much easier to find the information than in the alcohol world. It is mainly because you are often buying it for the taste but also because it is low or free in alcohol content.

Although it is interesting that I saw a bottle of alcohol free prosecco on a shelf at a local supermarket that said “0.0” on the front, 0.1% on the shelf label and 0.5% on the back of the bottle.

And yes I did call them on it!

So can drinks account for different units?

Yes you are so right they can!

But again if you follow the simple rule of one unit is one standard measure of alcohol then you are on the right track.

However, the higher the ABV of the drink might make it 1.6 units for example.

So if your beer is high in terms of alcohol it will be higher in units.

But the basic principle remains.

Its basic maths and even I failed maths at school.

So if you are just wanting to cut back on alcohol rather than stopping it altogether just creating an ABV diary could help.

And going for lower alcohol ABV drinks could make a massive difference in just a few weeks.

Look for the ABV and if it’s high seek out another option.

In my experience since going alcohol free drink producers are becoming more and more aware of this trend thus the massive growth in 0.5% or low alcohol beers.

Anything 0.5% per cent or below is considered legally in the UK anyway as alcohol free.

Always get medical advice before you stop drinking altogether as it can be a serious addiction however only you can be the judge of that.

Even as a coach I always get medical approval before working with anyone.

My favorite course for mild addiction to anything for sweets, chocolate to alcohol is by Mark Tyrell, a brilliant coach.

You can do the course from your mobile or tablet and I rate it 10/10.

The affiliate link is below and I get a small commission but you pay the same:

I would love to know how it works for you!

Can you give me some examples?

Yes of course.

Let’s do my favorite which is wine and now of course alcohol free wine which luckily has become very drinkable.

It’s slightly restricted to online purchases and you can read my review of alcohol free wine online here.

A supermarket bottle of wine takes your fancy and you look on the back and it has an abv of 13.5%.

This could be red, white or rose by the way.

This would amount to 10 units per bottle.

So imagine you are sticking to your 14 unit goal ( which is not a goal) then you will have nearly exceeded that after a stressful day after work.

You have two large glasses then finish the bottle.

In fact a large 250 ml glass of wine could easily be three units!

Bingo, you are nearly there.

So in reality 6 medium size glasses of wine at the ABV of 13.5 and you are at your 14 units.

Just start playing around with it and your awareness will develop. The easier it is the more likely you are to start following the guidelines.

This is why I am not a fan of making it complicated.

Well this can be a crafty one as you don’t always realize when you drink high strength beer.

So a regular beer could have an abv of 4% while if you have ordered extra strong you could be looking at nearly 8% abv.

That is a big difference in terms of points as you are doubling them.

You can see why that ABV figure is key.

So let’s take a basic 4% abv beer down the pub or even more likely nowadays at home.

Well 14 units would be 6 pints. So you can see that while the 1 unit equals one measure kind of works you also need to add a bit on.

So if you take the basic equation 12 half pints would be 12 units. But given the ABV it comes to a bit over.

So in effect each half of lager is 1.15 units.

So 1.15 x 12 = 13.8 units but of course no one is going to get a calculator out which is why the basic equation works well.

However, you start drinking a higher alcohol level of beer the equation goes out the window.

Work out your units at the drink aware website which follows UK medical guidelines.

Personally I think spirits are a bit easier because working out one single shot of whiskey just seems to be easier to understand.

People just say “I will have a single malt whiskey” and “go on and will have a double”.

It just seems a lot cleaner and it’s all about the vocabulary.

Whiskey like most spirits has a high ABV which I actually think most people get. They are also not treated like some soft drinks which wine frequently is nowadays.

Gone are the small French wine glasses where you would have one with lunch or dinner.

In fact my health consultant said glass size was a massive misunderstanding that people now make.

So a large glass of wine is one unit! No it isn’t!

So whiskey very often has an abv around 35-40%. Beer however often comes in the 4- 5% ABV range.

You get it don’t you, it’s just a bit clearer!

So you go to a bar and order a single whiskey, it has probably got an ABV of 40% so we can say much more clearly that is one unit of alcohol.

So if you do the maths 14 single measures of whiskey a week and that is your 14 units per week guideline.

Again it is not a goal!

Order more than that and you will go over!

What about vodka, that’s good for you right?

People often sing the praises of vodka because it is pure alcohol. So let’s do the equation on vodka then.

Anything to keep you happy!

So remember this is not about dieting it’s about units. They are different things.

So I am afraid with vodka the same rules apply as with whiskey.

Yep sorry!

You go to the pub and ask for vodka and your favorite mixer.

Well most people will here go for a single vodka especially at the beginning of the evening. Maybe not later !

So again a single measure would be 25ml and usually the alcohol by volume or ABV is around 40%.

By the way adding cola to it makes no difference to the units per se.

So 14 straight single vodkas every night after work ( 2 per night ) and you would hit your 14 units per week.

One more and you are over the 14 unit.

So having doubles every night and you are on 28 units

And before you say that would not happen – I have seen it at after work drinks time and time again.

Then of course we go to the Doctor and make it all up!

Now remember I ended up nearly dead from a bad reaction to wine and that again was social drinking of wine.

Of course genetics and stress play a role but alcohol plays a much bigger one.

According to UK medical advice it increases the risks of key diseases including cancer, liver disease and of course all the behavioral issues related to alcohol that we forget about.

I have not even talked about our mental health here.

Alcohol Free and Mixing it Up

Now there are a lot of cynics about alcohol free drinks out there and I get it.

But since I gave up alcohol I have come to realize the whole market has moved on and so has the taste!

I can even say that now about alcohol free wine and I thought I would never say that.

In fact if you want to hit two birds with one stone I highly recommend the best diet alcohol free gin and tonic going.

You can read my review of Seedlip Gin and Fever Tree Light and see if you think it’s a good option for you.

The mixing it up of alcohol with alcohol free beer clearly labeled in a bottle or can help so I do recommend Free Star Beer.

Just start alcohol free at the beginning of an evening not at the end or it just might not happen.

So I admit some websites make it complicated

The drink aware website is amazing but it does take a bit of navigation so the more you are aware of the 1 unit on a standard measure rule you are on a great path even if it is just to be more aware.

Keeping a unit drink diary is a great way to keep an eye on your alcohol intake and being honest with your Doctor is a good strategy too.

They have heard it all before and remember it’s about you, not them.

Maybe a mixed up approach could be a great option for you. After all once you build a habit for more than 28 days it sticks.

Alcohol Free could be a great start to that process.

I would love to know how many units you thought was in one unit of alcohol? How does that transfer into your drinking habits?

Did you know about ABV for example? Let me know what you thought about what is one unit of alcohol ?

Leave your message below and I always respond.

4 thoughts on “What is One unit of alcohol?”

1. I think that this is a bit of s minefield.  But unfortunately few people really give it a second thought anyway.

I think that if people would become more aware of the quantity and the danger it is to their health would be a good first step.

The problem is that too many people go out with the sole purpose of drinking as much as they can and to get as drunk as they can.  Until this culture changes and people just go out for a social drink, asking them to count units is pointless.

However, for those who want to protect their health, then your information is very helpful.

• Thanks Geoff some excellent thoughts there. I and I agree its a minefield which is why the simpler the better. No-one is going to stand there and work out the maths while ordering drinks.

That is why I prefer the simple measure of one standard drink equals one unit. Its a great place to start.

Thanks so much for your valuable comment.

I am pleased you came by to read what is one unit of alcohol.  All the very best, Phil