Alcohol guidelines: How much is 14 units?

Four years ago, in 2016, the government updated the alcohol guidelines in the UK for the first time in more than two decades.

The UK's chief medical officer fully reviewed alcohol guidelines issued in 1995, and reduced the recommended maximum number of units to 14 for both men and women per week. Previously, men were told they could safely drink 21 units.

At this limit people are keeping the health risks associated with drinking alcohol to a low level, says the CMO.

If you do drink 14 units a week, you are advised to spread this over three days or more, rather than binge drinking them all at once.

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It says: “If you have one or two heavy drinking sessions, you increase your risk of death from long-term illnesses and from accidents and injuries.”

It also advised that during drinking sessions you drink more slowly, drink with food and alternate your alcoholic drinks with a glass of water.

The guidelines also warn pregnant women that they should aim to abstain from drinking entirely, when they were previously told they could safely drink one or two units a week at most.

“Drinking alcohol in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink the greater the risk," it says.

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The idea of counting alcohol units was first introduced in the UK in 1987 to help people keep track of their drinking, says the NHS. But how many drinks is 14 units equivalent to? Below, we outline exactly what it means in real terms.

One unit of alcohol (10ml or 8g) is the equivalent to:

A single measure of spirits (ABV 37.5%); half a pint of average-strength (4%) lager; two-thirds of a 125ml glass of average-strength (12%) wine; half a 175ml glass of average-strength (12%) wine; a third of a 250ml glass of average-strength (12%) wine.

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One unit is the amount an average adult can process in one hour. “This means within an hour there should be, in theory, little or no alcohol left in the blood of an adult, although this will vary from person to person,” says the NHS.

14 units of alcohol equal:

14 single measures of spirits (ABV 37.5%); seven pints of average-strength (4%) lager; nine and one-third 125ml glasses of average-strength (12%) wine; seven 175ml glasses of average-strength (12%) wine; four and two-thirds 250ml glasses of average-strength (12%) wine.

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Wine

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

For low-alcohol wines (11% ABV), 14 units equals:

Just over one and a half bottles; five 250ml glasses; around seven 175ml glasses; 10 125ml glasses.

For high-alcohol wines (14% ABV), 14 units equals:

One and a third bottles; four 250ml glasses; around six 175ml glasses; just under eight 125ml glasses.

Lager

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

For low-alcohol lagers (3.8% ABV), 14 units equals:

Just over eight 440ml cans; just over six pints; five and a half 660ml bottles.

For high-alcohol lagers (5.2% ABV), 14 units equals:

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Six 440ml cans; around four and a half pints; just over four 660ml bottles.

If you still aren’t sure the NHS says you can work out how many units there are in any drink by multiplying the total volume of a drink (in ml) by its ABV (measured as a percentage) and dividing the result by 1,000.

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