Alcohol poisoning - Prevention 

Preventing alcohol poisoning 

Alcohol units: women

If women regularly drink more than two to three units of alcohol a day, it could add up to a serious health problem.

Media last reviewed: 06/09/2013

Next review due: 06/09/2015

Know your units…

Many people are surprised by the number of units found in some standard drinks:

  • a can of standard lager, beer or bitter – 1.8 units
  • a can of strong lager, beer or bitter – 2.2 units
  • a pint of standard lager, beer or bitter – 2.3 units
  • a pint of strong lager, beer or bitter – 2.8 units
  • a small glass of wine (125ml) – 1.5 units
  • a large glass of wine (250ml) – 3 units
  • a bottle of alcopops – 1.4 units
  • a measure of spirits (25ml) – 1 unit
  • a bottle of wine – 9 units
  • a one litre bottle of standard cider – 4 units
  • a one litre bottle of strong cider – 9 units
  • a 700ml bottle of spirits – 27-28 units

Alcohol passes quickly into your bloodstream. The physical and mental effects on your body can happen very suddenly.

To stop yourself from getting drunk and risking alcohol poisoning, it helps to be aware of how much you are drinking and the effect this could have on your body.

The effects of alcohol

Around 1-2 units

  • your heart rate will speed up and your blood vessels expand
  • you get the warm, sociable feeling associated with moderate drinking

Around 4-6 units

  • your decision making and judgement will start to be affected, making you lose your inhibitions and become more reckless
  • the cells in your nervous system will start to be affected, making you feel lightheaded
  • your coordination will be affected and your reaction time may be slower

Around 8-9 units

  • your reaction times will be much slower
  • your speech will begin to slur
  • your vision will begin to lose focus
  • your liver will be unable to remove all of the alcohol overnight, so it is likely you will wake up with a hangover

At this stage you should seriously consider not drinking any more alcohol.

But if you do:

Around 10-12 units

  • your coordination will be seriously impaired, placing you at high risk of having an accident
  • you may stagger around or feel unstable on your feet
  • you will feel drowsy or dizzy
  • the amount of alcohol in your body will begin to reach toxic (poisonous) levels
  • you may need to go to the toilet more often as your body attempts to quickly pass the alcohol out with your urine
  • you will be dehydrated in the morning, and probably have a severe headache
  • the excess alcohol in your system may upset your digestive system, leading to nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or indigestion

More than 12 units

  • you're at high risk of developing alcohol poisoning, particularly if you are drinking lots of units in a short space of time
  • the alcohol can begin to interfere with the automatic functions of your body, such as your breathing, heart rate and gag reflex
  • you are at risk of losing consciousness

Some tips for drinking less

  • Replace some of your drinks with non-alcoholic or low-alcohol drinks.
  • If you drink mainly when you go out, try going out later or having your first drink later.
  • If you drink mainly at home, trying buying non-alcoholic or low-alcohol alternatives.
  • Buy smaller glasses and watch how much you pour.
  • If you enjoy drinking pints in the pub or cans of beer watching football, remember lower-strength lagers and beers are available.
  • If you use alcohol to 'wind down' after a hard day, find alternatives, such as exercise classes or relaxation techniques.
  • Avoid drinking on an empty stomach.
  • Avoid mixing different alcoholic drinks, such as beer with wine, or spirits with beer.

Keeping a drink diary

If you are not sure how much you are drinking on a daily basis, try keeping a drink diary. Every day, make a note of:

This should give you a good idea of how much you are drinking, the situations in which you drink and where you could start to cut down.

Page last reviewed: 15/06/2012

Next review due: 15/06/2014


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Use the NHS Choices interactive tools to calculate alcohol units, assess your drinking levels and track your drinking over time