Discovering how much you are drinking sounds easy doesn’t it? After all, you can drink a pint or a half pint of beer or cider, a single or a double measure of spirits or a glass of wine. And if you’re counting your units it’s easy – two units for a pint, and one unit for half a pint or a spirit and mixer…well, not quite. Unfortunately, the truth is more complicated than that.
How drunk you get depends on how much pure alcohol your drink contains . One unit is 10 ml of pure alcohol – the amount of alcohol the average adult can process within an hour. This means that if the average adult drinks a drink with one unit of alcohol in it, within an hour there should in theory be no alcohol left in their bloodstream, (1),but that length of time could differ depending on a person’s body size. (1)
The alcohol content in drinks is also expressed as a percentage of the whole drink. If you take a look at the label of a bottle of wine or a can of lager you will see either a percentage, followed by the abbreviation “ABV” which stands for alcohol by volume, or sometimes just the word “vol”. So, wine that says “13 ABV” on its label contains 13% pure alcohol.
So how strong is your drink?
But the alcoholic content in the same types of drinks can vary a lot. For example, some ales have an alcohol content of 3.5%. But stronger continental lagers can be 5% ABV, or even 6%.
This means that just one pint of strong lager can equate to more than three units of alcohol – almost your daily recommended guideline if you are a man. And research shows that we are drinking stronger drinks than ever before.
Most wines are between 12 and 14% ABV, these robust, new world wines can be 17% ABV – or more.
Large or small?
And don’t forget about size either.
If people are pouring you a glass of wine remember it depends on the size of the glass and how much they fill it. If you opt for a large glass and don’t say stop, you could be consuming as much as 250ml – which is one third of a bottle. This can be nearly three units of alcohol or more in just one glass. So if you have just two or three drinks, you could easily consume a whole bottle of wine – and almost three times your guideline daily units of alcohol – without even realising.
Units in Drinks
Alcopop (275ml bottle): 1.4 units, 192 calories
Alcopop (275ml bottle, diet): 1.4 units, 96 calories
Ale (284ml, half pint, strong): 1.3 units, 111 calories
Champagne (175ml glass): 2.1 units, 133 calories
Cider (284ml, half pint, dry): 1.7 units, 128 calories
Gin (25ml measure): 0.9 units, 52 calories
Guinness (586ml, pint): 2.4 units, 210 calories
Lager (586ml, pint): 2.8 units, 244 calories
Red wine (large, 250ml): 2.3 units, 170 calories
Rum (25ml measure, Bacardi): 0.9 units, 52 calories
Smirnoff Ice (275ml bottle): 1.5 units, 187 calories
Vodka (35ml measure): 1.3 units, 72 calories
Whisky (35ml measure): 1.4 units, 78 calories
White wine (large, 250ml, dry): 3 units, 185 calories