Alcohol, The Facts     





Alcohol, the Facts Physical and mental effects of Alcohol General patient / friend or family information

How many people drink alcohol in the UK?
What is a unit of alcohol?

What are the recommended safe drinking limits

When does the consumption of Alcohol become a problem?

You and driving (download leaflet, PDF)

How is alcohol affecting our society?  
Number of people dying from excess alcohol in the UK   

How many people drink alcohol in the UK?

27% men and 14% women drink over recommended number of units weekly. (ONS 1998)

In the UK there are approximately:

  • 5 million non-drinkers
  • 40 million social drinkers
  • 10 million " at risk" drinkers
  • 1 million problem drinkers
  • 200,000 dependent drinkers

What is a unit of alcohol?

  • Ĺ pint of ordinary strength beer or cider
  • small glass of wine
  • pub measure of spirits
  • Average Units in:

    - Small Sherry - 1 Unit
    - Pint of Standard strength Beer, Lager and Cider - 2 Units
    - Large Can of Strong Cider (9%) - 4 Units
    - Bottle of Strong Cider (1 Litre) - 8 Units
    - 1 Small Glass (125 ml) of Wine (9%) - 1 Unit
    - 1 Large Glass (175 ml) of Wine (12%) - 2 Units
    - Bottle of Wine (700 ml) - 7 to 9 Units
    - Measure of Spirits - 1 Unit
    - Bottle of Spirits (700 ml) - 26 to 28 Units

    Work out the units

    It's the strength and size of a drink that determines how many units it has. It's not as simple as one drink, one unit.

    A handy calculator to help you work it out can be found at:

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    What are the recommended safe drinking limits

    British medical association suggests

    Men - less than 21 units a week

    Women - less than 14 units

    Department of health suggests

    Men - less than 3 to 4 units a day

    Women - less than 2 to 3 units a day

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    When does the consumption of Alcohol become a problem?

    Binge Drinking

    Binge drinking means 8 units for men, 6 for women and 5 for a young person in one session. Binge drinking increases risk of accidents, violent attacks, sexual assault and unsafe sex. If you are planning to drink above the recommended guidelines, follow the tips for sensible drinking, so that you reduce the risks you are taking.

    Heavy Drinker

    Drinking over the sensible limit. 1/5 of the adult population fall into this category.

    Problem Drinker

    When physical, psychological or social harm occurs through drinking 8% of Men and 4% of Women fall into this category.

    Dependant Drinker

    For example when there is difficulty with control of drinking, experience of withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, increased tolerance to alcohol i.e. being able to consume more without getting drunk. 4.7% of the adult population are in this category.

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    How is alcohol affecting our society?

  • 5% of suicide attempts are linked to heavy drinking
  • Alcohol is a factor in 20-30% of accidents
  • 11% of cases alcohol consumption is the main cause of menís high blood pressure, which is a major factor relating to coronary heart disease and stroke
  • Teenage pregnancy - 40% of 13-14 year olds were drunk when they first experienced sexual intercourse
  • Alcohol is costing NHS around £3 billion a year
  • Up to 30% male admissions and 15% female admissions to general surgical and medical wards have alcohol related problems
  • Local research carried out at Bristol Royal Infirmary Apr-Jun 2001, by John Potokar, Consultant Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry. Looked at prevalence of alcohol misuse on a general admissions ward using the alcohol use disorders identification test. 119 patients selected at random aged 16-65 assessed with AUDIT questionnaire: 30% drank in hazardous or harmful way (Not yet published)

    Domestic Violence

    • Half of all violent crimes are alcohol related.
    • 1/3 of domestic violent incidents are linked to alcohol misuse.

    Number of people dying from excess alcohol in the UK

    Each year 5,000 to 10,000 people die prematurely from alcohol abuse. The more alcohol a population consumes the more alcohol-related damage will result, and consumption has been increasing steadily in England since the second world war.

    Deaths from liver cirrhosis relate closely to heavy drinking. Deaths linked to cirrhosis and related diseases of the liver rose by 121% for men and 68% for women between 1980-82 and 2000, according to the Office for National Statistics.


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Compiled by Dr Louise Younie, GP / Clinical lecturer in Primary Care.
Site Maintained by Miles Jordan, NHS Bristol PCT, South Plaza, Bristol, BS1 3NX