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Alcohol Information


What is alcohol?

Alcohol is found in drinks such as beer, lager, cider, wine, alco pops and spirits (whisky, vodka, gin, rum). All alcoholic drinks contain ethanol (pure alcohol). The strength, colour and taste of alcoholic drinks depend upon the amount of ethanol and the ingredients used, for example grapes, hops or grains.

Alcohol has no nutritional value but it is high in calories.

What is a unit of alcohol?

Alcoholic drinks come in different strengths and are measured as a % by volume. The higher the % marked on the label the stronger the drink will be. Alco pops often contain more alcohol than many beers, lager or cider.

A unit is equivalent to 8gms or 10ml (1cl) of pure alcohol. You can work out the exact number of units in a drink by multiplying the volume of the drink in ml by the %A.B.V. (% of alcohol by volume) and dividing it by 1000.

For example a 330ml can of lager with a 7% A.B.V. is 330×7 divided by 1000 = 2.3units

The following measures of drink all contain one unit of pure alcohol: –

  • Half a pint of ordinary strength lager/ beer/cider (3.5-4%A.B.V.) = 1 unit
  • A 25ml pub measure of a spirit (40%A.B.V.) = 1 unit
  • A small glass of wine (8-9%A.B.V.) = 1 unit

Other examples of units in different drinks: –

  • A 125ml glass of wine at 11-12% A.B.V. contains about 1.5 units.
  • A 330ml bottle of beer/lager/cider at 4-5% A.B.V. contains about 1.5 units.
  • A 330ml bottle of an alco pop at 4 or 6% A.B.V. contains 1.3 or 2 units respectively.
  • 1 pint of standard beer or larger is 2 units
  • 1 pint of regular cider is 2.8 units

Remember drinks poured at home and parties are usually far more generous than those in pubs and clubs.

Sensible drinking, how much is too much?

There are daily benchmarks set for adults as a guide to how much they can drink, without putting their health at risk. These benchmarks do not apply to young people who have not reached physical maturity. The following benchmarks apply to any period of 24 hours when you drink alcohol.

Both men and women are now advised to consume no more than 14 units per week and to spread their drinking over 3 or more days. If you drink between 2 units a day or less, there are no significant risks to your health. If, however, you regularly drink 3-4 units or more a day there is an increasing risk to your health.

Women who are planning a pregnancy or are at any stage in pregnancy should take special care as alcohol consumption can reduce fertility and can affect the developing baby in the womb. Limiting consumption to 1-2 units per week is no longer considered safe. Although there is a low risk of harm to your baby when drinking small amounts of alcohol prior to becoming aware of being pregnant, the Chief Medical Officer of England strongly advises against drinking even small amounts of alcohol when pregnant.

Are there any health benefits of drinking alcohol?

For men over 40 and women who have been through the menopause, there can be health benefits from drinking 1-2 units a day. This is because alcohol gives some protection against the development of coronary heart disease and some strokes. Alcohol influences the amount of cholesterol carried in the bloodstream and so makes it less likely that clots will form.

What are the effects of alcohol drinking?

Many people enjoy drinking alcohol and in small amounts it can help you relax and feel more sociable. The effects of alcohol on a person can vary, depending on the strength of the drink and how fast it is consumed, when the person last ate, their weight, mood and surroundings. Alcohol will start to affect the mind just 5 minutes after it has been swallowed.

When people have a lot to drink they become ‘drunk’, their speech may become slurred, co-ordination is affected and emotions are heightened. When people are under the influence of alcohol they are more likely to take risks sexually and end up sleeping with someone they wish they hadn’t. Worse still by not using a condom they can end up with a sexually transmitted disease.

A ‘hangover’ is what is experienced after a drinking session and it can last for a day or even 2. A hangover can leave you with a headache, sickness, depression and tiredness. After a long drinking session you should avoid alcohol for 48 hours to give your body tissues time to recover.

An overdose can occur when you drink far too much, it may cause alcoholic poisoning, you may lose consciousness and then risk being sick and choking on your vomit.

Long-term over-use of alcohol can cause serious damage to many of the body’s organs e.g. the liver, heart and stomach. There are more than 25,000 deaths a year in the U.K. that are drink related.

Mixing alcohol with other drugs (legal or illegal) is very dangerous.

What is the legal drink drive limit?

The current legal limit for driving in the U.K. (excluding Scotland) is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100millitres of blood, 35 micrograms of alcohol in 100 ml of breath or 107 milligrams of alcohol per 100ml of urine. In Scotland the current legal limit is 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100millitres of blood, 22 micrograms of alcohol in 100 ml of breath or 67 milligrams of alcohol per 100ml of urine

The legal drink drive limit can’t be safely converted into a certain number of units, as everyone absorbs alcohol into the blood stream at different rates. However, an average man (12-13 stone) should consume no more than 4 units and an average woman (9-10 stone) should consume no more than 3 units. If you are particularly small or have not eaten these figures should be reduced.

The only way to be sure you are not over the limit is not to drink at all if you are going to drive. Any amount of alcohol will affect your judgement, you will not be able to judge speed and distance accurately and your ability to react may be severely affected. Approximately 240 people in Britain die each year in road accidents involving drivers who are over the current legal limit.

How long does it take for alcohol to be out of my system?

Providing you have a healthy liver, it will take one hour for your liver to remove one unit of alcohol. So if you drink heavily in the evening you may still be over the legal drink drive limit the following morning. Only time can remove alcohol from your blood stream – black coffee, cold showers and fresh air will not sober you up. If you want to know if you still have alcohol in your system try one of our alcohol tests, listed below.

Alcohol and children

Young people see alcohol all around them, in supermarkets, off licenses, pubs, restaurants and on the T.V. They might also see their parents drinking alcohol and this can make it very difficult for them to see that misusing alcohol can be dangerous. Most children taste their first alcoholic drink between the ages of 10 and 13 usually at a family gathering such as a wedding. However, children still tend to go off and experiment drinking alcohol with their friends and because they are smaller they will be affected by alcohol much more quickly. As a result, young people are more likely to have an accident or get involved in a fight.

What to do in an emergency or if someone has drunk too much.

If you are with someone who has drunk too much, do not leave them to sleep it off alone as there is a risk of them choking on their own vomit. Make sure they sleep on their side and check regularly that they are breathing.

If they become unconscious, phone 999 straight away, place them in the recovery position (on their side), keep them warm but not too hot, check their breathing and remain with them until the ambulance arrives.

Alcohol and the law

It is illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under the age of 18, or for them to attempt to buy alcohol. The only exception is for 16 or 17 year olds having a meal in a restaurant where they can be bought a beer or cider, but not in a bar.

Police have the legal power to confiscate alcohol from anyone they know to be, or believe to be under the age of 18 and drinking in a public place.