How many units of alcohol are really in your drink?

Confused about units of alcohol? So are we. That’s why we’ve constructed a guide so you can find out exactly how many units are in your favourite drinks

Middle aged women are drinking three times more alcohol than recommended because they are confused about unit sizes, and well, we totally get it. The findings came last week from a study of 2000 women conducted by Sara Stewart, as part of her research for her new book Whilst I was Out.

Units of alcohol are something that we just can’t get our heads around either. What’s one unit? Do the units change depending on the strength of the drink? How do I know how many units are in my large glass of wine?  Healthista asked Andrew Russell, Research and Insights Manager at Drinks Aware to help us out (and guess what? Highest unit choices were typical bar measures of beer and wine and lowest were shots, Baileys, mixed drinks and Prosecco!)


What are units and why do we have them?

One unit is equivalent to 10ml of pure alcohol

‘Units are a standardised measure of how much alcohol is in different drinks, because each drink is of a different ABV (alcohol by volume),’ says Russell.

‘So a typical beer is around four or five percent and a typical wine is around 12 or 15 percent while spirits are nearer 40 percent, but of course we drink them in different amounts.

Highest unit choices were typical bar measures of beer and wine and lowest were shots, Baileys, missed drinks and Prosecco

‘We might have a pint of four percent beer or a glass of 15 percent wine but in order to find out which one has more alcohol we measure in units.

The government now recommends we regularly have no more than 14 units a week – the equivalent of six pints of beer or six glasses of medium to large wine.

‘So, one unit is the equivalent to 10ml of pure alcohol’, Russell explains.

How many units can we drink in a week?

The healthy drinking guidelines were re-written earlier this year to be even more Draconian than before, now recommending we regularly have no more than 14 units a week – the equivalent of six pints of beer or six glasses of medium to large wine.

Can we save them all up and have them at once?

‘The advice is not to save them all up at once, you should try and spread them all out over the week, because obviously 14 units in a session is quite intense,’ says Russell. Instead, he suggests that to spread them out evenly we should only have one or two drinks a night.

‘Your liver is what processes alcohol and breaks it down in to a different substance,’ says Russell.

It can only process one unit an hour so if you go out and have 14 units in the space of three or four hours then there’s a huge backlog of alcohol to deal with

‘It can only process one unit an hour so if you go out and have 14 units in the space of three or four hours then there’s a huge backlog of alcohol to deal with.’

Russell explains that this puts your liver under strain because it will prioritise dealing with the alcohol instead of doing it’s normal job of processing fatty acids and as a result, your liver can become damaged.

He also explains that if you were to drink 14 units in one session, the alcohol can stay in your bloodstream for up to 12 hours and is fed around your body, visiting your brain, pancreas, heart and damaging cells.

If we’re out at a bar, how can we tell how many units are in our drink? 


There is a rule of thumb. ‘We know that a pint of beer is just a little over two units and a glass of wine, again, depending on the strength, is about 2.1 or 2.2 units and a single shot of spirits is one unit, so we can measure it in that way,’ says Russell. In other words, when in doubt, your standard bar beer or wine is probably a little over two units.

your standard bar beer or wine is probably a little over two units.

Is there a way you can work it out just by looking at the percentage?

‘If you’re good at mental maths, definitely. If you multiply the percentage by the size of the serving and then divide 10, that will give you the the number of units but that’s not going to be something you’re going to do at a bar.’

At what point does it become binge drinking? 

‘For women it would be having more than six units in a single session and for men it’s eight.  So basically, it’s the equivalent of three drinks.’




Small 125ml glass of 13% wine  = 1.8 units 

Large 175ml glass of 13% wine = 2.4 units 


Russell explained that It doesn’t matter if it’s red, white or rosé, the colour of the alcohol doesn’t change anything, it’s the percentage. An average bottle of wine is between 12 and 15%, so a pub measured, large glass of wine, contains 2.4 units.



A 568ml pint of 4% beer  = 2.3 units  

A 330ml bottle of 5% beer = 1.6 units



Beer it typically four or five percent. In a classic pint, there are just over two units. For those of you that prefer a chilled bottle, you are consuming 1.6 units.



A pint of 4.5% cider (568ml) = 2.6 units


Most pints of cider contain 2.6 units, which means if you were to balance your units throughout the week, you could only have two or three ciders before it is considered binge drinking.



A glass of 12% champagne = 1.5 units 


It’s coming up to christmas and the new year, which means one thing – bubbly. Most champagnes and Prosecco’s have an ABV of 12% and that comes in at 1.5 units per glass. So a bit less than wine – nice one.



Single = 1 unit

Double = 2 units


Think of our favourite mixed drinks like gin and tonic, vodka cranberry, rum and coke. The majority of spirits are 40% alcohol, so when measured, they are equal to one unit. So, if you were to have a single gin and tonic, that would be one unit, but if you were to have a double the next round, that counts as two.




It really depends on the cocktail, but much like the mixed drinks, if you have a cocktail that is made up of three different alcohols, each shot of alcohol would class as one unit, so the cocktail as a whole would be three units.



A single shot (25ml) = 1 unit


This one’s pretty simple to keep track of. One typical 25ml shot of a 40% alcohol is one unit.



Single 25ml shot  = 0.4 units 

Double shot = 0.8 units


It’s good news for us Baileys lovers. Surprisingly, Baileys is only 17%, and when measured out, a single 25ml shot is just 0.4 units and of course, a double is 0.8 units – result (we’re not too sure on the calories though)


MORE: The SMART drinking guide

MORE: 7 best low alcohol beers


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