Is There Anything Wrong with a Drink Now and Then?

Drinking is best when you don’t over do it. Drinking too much alcohol – or even drinking a little at the wrong time – can cause problems. Not just hangovers, but accidents – at home, at work and on the road. And it can do serious damage to your health, to your family and to your self-esteem – and also your pocket.

Who is at risk?

If you drink at all, you’re affected by alcohol. Generally, if you only drink a little, the risks to your health are very small. But the more you drink, the greater the risks. You also put yourself and others at risk if you drink inappropriately, for example by drinking and driving. That’s why it is important to look carefully at your drinking habits. This guide will help you to find out if you are a sensible drinker, and tell you what to do if you feel that your drinking is becoming a problem.

How much alcohol is in my drink?

The most important thing that you need to know is the amount of alcohol in your drink, and how the different drinks compare in strength. Each of the following drinks, in standard pub measures, contains roughly the same amount of alcohol, a “unit”.

  • Half-pint of ordinary strength beer, lager or cider
  • One small glass of wine
  • One single measure of spirits
  • One small glass of sherry
  • One single measure of aperitif

There are approximately eight units in a 75cl bottle of wine, eleven units in a 1 litre bottle of wine, 13 units in a bottle of sherry and 30 units in a bottle of spirits.


Home measures are usually much more generous than pub measures, so look carefully at how much drink there is in your glass. You might have the equivalent of 2, 3 or even more units. You may find it useful to look at the following chart and see how many units are contained in a can or bottle.

Extra-strength lagers and beers can contain up to three times as much alcohol as ordinary-strength drinks. Look out for the percentage of alcohol by volume symbols (%ABV) on the bottles and cans: this may be shown as “alcohol % vol” or “%vol”. The higher the number, the stronger the drink. Looking at these will also help you to compare the strengths of different drinks.

Beers, lagers, ciders and wines which are described as “low-alcohol” vary enormously in strength. Some wines can be up to half the strength of ordinary table wine. Beers, lagers and ciders can vary between being a third of the ordinary strength and virtually alcohol-free (0.005% ABV). Don’t be confused by the name: “light” can refer to the colour or calorie content of a drink rather than its strength.

There is now a wide range of alcoholic “soft drinks” on the market. These look and often taste like traditional soft drinks such as lemonade, orangeade or cola, but contain more alcohol – an average of 5% – than ordinary-strength beers and lagers. One danger with these drinks is that they are very sweet, making them more likely to appeal to young inexperienced drinkers. They are also more likely to be confused with real soft drinks.

How much do you drink?

Do you really know how much you drink? Don’t just guess – you’d be surprised at how wrong you can be. Fill in the drinking diary so that you can look at your drinking over a few days or a week. Fill it in for the last week if you can remember accurately, or start the diary today.

Don’t forget to include all of your drinks, not just the ones you have in the evening. Don’t cheat and don’t make excuses about it not being a “typical” week. Count how many units of alcohol you had on an average day.

Also note down when and where you drank and who you were with or whether you were alone. Were you upset, stressed of depressed? If you think you need to cut down, it will help you to work out how to go about it.

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