How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much

A drink or two can help you relax after a long day, but, depending on exactly what you’re drinking, if you do this regularly you could be drinking more than the recommended sensible levels without realising it.

The recommended limit of alcohol  for women is no more than two to three units a day. Just one pint of strong lager or a large glass of wine can be three units.

What is a unit?

One unit is 10 ml of pure alcohol.

It takes an average adult around an hour to process this so that there’s none left in their bloodstream, although this varies from person to person.

What is a unit of alcohol?

Alcohol content is also expressed as a percentage of the whole drink.

Look on a bottle of wine or a can of lager and you’ll see either a percentage, followed by the abbreviation “ABV” (alcohol by volume), or sometimes just the word “vol”.

Wine that says “13 ABV” on its label contains 13% pure alcohol.

The alcoholic content in similar types of drinks varies a lot. Some ales are 3.5%.

But stronger continental lagers can be 5% ABV, or even 6%. Same goes for wine where the ABV of stronger ‘new world’ wines from South America, South Africa and Australia can exceed 14% ABV compared to the 13% ABV average of European wines.

This means that just one pint of strong lager or a large glass of wine can contain more than three units of alcohol – the upper daily unit guideline limit if you are woman.

Want to know the units in your favourite drinks? Find out here…

Spirit measures and wine glass sizes

Spirits used to be commonly served in 25ml measures, which are one unit of alcohol, many pubs and bars now serve 35ml or 50ml measures.

More on the units and calories in spirit measures

Large wine glasses hold 250ml, which is one third of a bottle. It means there can be nearly three units 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 the government’s daily alcohol unit guidelines – without even realising. Smaller glasses are usually 175ml and some pubs serve 125ml.

How much is a unit?

  • a pint of standard lager, beer, cider – 2.3 units
  • a pint of strong lager, beer, cider – 2.8 units
  • a glass of spirits (25ml) – 1 unit
  • a 175ml glass of wine – 2 units
  • a 250ml glass of wine – 3 units
  • a glass of spirits (25ml) – 1 unit
  • bottle of alcopops – 1.4 units
  • a bottle of wine – 10 units


Strategies for drinking less at home

If you’re pouring your own drinks at home, it’s easy to drink more alcohol than you realise.

Here are some tips to help you keep track:

  • If you drink wine at home, pour small amounts into your glass.
  • If you fill glasses to the rim, you’ll drink more than you realise. Opt for small 125ml glasses too. Measure your spirits instead of free pouring them. The Drink aware unit measure cup is an ideal way to measure spirits, as well as wine and beer.
  • Try and pour your own drinks. If your partner or your host is constantly topping up your half-filled glass, it’s hard to keep track of how much alcohol you are drinking. 


More tips for cutting down at home…

Strategies for drinking less out and about

  • Use the smartphone version of our My Drinkaware drink tracking tool. It’s free and simple to use.
  • Ask for a small glass of wine. A 125ml glass is around one and a half units of alcohol.
  • Drink spritzers if you like wine, or pints of shandy if you’re a lager drinker. You’ll still get a large drink, but one that contains less.
  • Opt for half pints if you prefer higher strength lager or try lower strength beer. You really won’t notice the difference.
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks.
  • Ask questions. If you are still uncertain about how much you are drinking, ask the bar staff. Do they pour doubles or singles? How big is their large glass of wine?


What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning impairs the body and eventually can shut down the areas of the brain that control basic life-support functions like breathing, heart rate, and temperature control.

You become more susceptible to alcohol poisoning when you:

  • Binge drink, or consume four or more (women) or 5 or more (men) alcoholic beverages in a single occasion.
  • Drink heavily, or consume eight or more (women) or 15 or more (men) alcoholic beverages per week.
  • Drink during pregnancy. No amount of alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy due to risks of passing alcohol toxicity through the placenta to your unborn child, which can cause severe damages at any stage of pregnancy.
  • Under the age of 21. Underage drinkers are more vulnerable to alcohol poisoning as studies have shown that they typically consume about five drinks in a single occasion.


Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms

This comes with very serious health penalties, which is why it’s very important to be well-informed about what symptoms you need to watch out for.

Below are some of the most common telltale signs of poisoning:

Loss of coordinationCold, clammy hands, and bluish skin due to hypothermia
Vomiting repeatedly and/or uncontrollablyIrregular or slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute or more than 10 seconds between breaths)
SeizuresConfusion, unconsciousness, stupor (or conscious but unresponsive), and sometimes coma

If you notice any of these symptoms, call 911 for help immediately.


Alcohol Poisoning Risk Factors

Generally, women are more vulnerable to poisoning.

They feel the effects faster than men of the same size.

Unfortunately, they’re also more predisposed to suffer from long-term alcohol-induced damage in the body.

This is due to several physiological reasons, such as: 

  • Poor ability to dilute alcohol because they have lower body water percentage in the body. The average female only has 52 percent while the average male has 61 percent.
  • Poor ability to metabolize alcohol because they have less dehydrogenase, a liver enzyme designed to break down alcohol in the body, than men.
  • Hormones. Premenstrual hormone changes tend to make women get intoxicated more rapidly during the days before their period. Birth control pills and other estrogen-containing medications, on the other hand, slow down the excretion of alcohol from the body.


Nevertheless, this does not mean that men are completely safe from the dangers of alcohol poisoning.

Below are a number of other factors that affect your body’s response to alcohol, regardless if you’re male or female:


FoodThe peak blood alcohol concentration level can be three times higher in people who drink with an empty stomach than in those who had a decent meal before drinking. Food plays a significant role in alcohol absorption in the body because it dilutes the alcohol while slowing down the emptying of the stomach into the small intestine where alcohol is absorbed.
Asian ethnicityApproximately 50 percent of Asians have trouble metabolizing alcohol due to a missing liver enzyme needed to process the substance.
Existing health conditionsPeople with diabetes should be wary of alcohol because it can cause a sudden surge and a dangerous drop in their blood sugar levels. Drinking alcohol may also prevent diabetes prescription drugs from working properly.
Prescription drugsMedications can potentially dull the effects of alcohol, which in turn causes you to drink more than what your body can truly handle.


How much water you drink, how often you drink, your age, and your family history are potential risk factors as well.

Blood Alcohol Content: How Much Is Too Much?

Blood alcohol content (BAC), also called blood alcohol concentration, refers to the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream.

It is expressed as the weight of ethanol measured in grams in 100 milliliters of blood or 210 liters of breath.

BAC can be measured either through a breathalyzer test, a blood test, or a urine test.

For example, a BAC of 0.10 means that 0.10% (one-tenth of one percent) of your blood, by volume, is alcohol.

All 50 states have now set .08% BAC as the legal limit for Driving Under the Influence (DUI). For commercial drivers, a BAC of .04% can result in a DUI conviction nationwide.

For those under age 21, there is a zero tolerance limit―any amount of alcohol is grounds for a DUI arrest.

To calculate your current blood alcohol content, there are free online sites and apps you can try like and iDrinkSmarter.

BAC results may vary depending on several variables, which include your gender, personal tolerance, body weight, and body fat percentage.

How Much Is in Your Drink?

As far as the Standard Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 is concerned, moderate drinking is having no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.

Basically, a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol, which is usually found in:

  • 12 ounces of beer (five percent alcohol)
  • Eight ounces of malt liquor (seven percent alcohol)
  • Five ounces of wine (12 percent)
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor like gin, rum, vodka, and whiskey (40 percent)


As a nation are we drinking too much?

Should we do more to combat binge drinking?