The risks of drinking too much

Regularly drinking more than 14 units a week risks damaging your health.

Fourteen units is equivalent to six pints of average strength beer or 10 small glasses of low strength wine.  

New evidence around the health harms from regular drinking have emerged in recent years.

There is now a better understanding of the link between drinking and some illnesses, including a range of cancers.

The previously held position that some level of alcohol was good for the heart has been revised. It is now thought that the evidence on a protective effect from moderate drinking is less strong than previously thought.

To reduce the risk of harming your health if you drink most weeks:

  • men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
  • spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week

Pregnant women or women trying to conceive should avoid alcohol altogether. Read more on pregnancy and alcohol.

No 'safe' drinking level

If you drink less than 14 units a week, this is considered low risk drinking.

It is called "low risk" rather than "safe" because there is no level without any risk.

The type of illnesses you can develop after 10 to 20 years of regularly drinking more than 14 units a week include:

  • cancers of the mouth, throat and breast
  • stroke
  • heart disease
  • liver disease
  • brain damage
  • damage to the nervous system

The effects of alcohol on your health will depend on how much you drink. The less you drink, the lower the health risks.

Read about alcohol units to work out how much alcohol there is in your drinks.

'Single session' drinking

Drinking too much too quickly on a single occasion can increase your risk of injuries and accidents, such as:

  • head injuries
  • fractures
  • facial injuries
  • scarring
  • alcohol poisoning
  • heart disease

To reduce your health risks during a single drinking session:

  • limit how much you drink 
  • drink more slowly
  • drink with food
  • alternate with water or non-alcoholic drinks

Find out more in binge drinking

Page last reviewed: 01/03/2014

Next review due: 01/03/2016

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Drinking and alcohol

Calculate your units, read about the health risks of drinking too much, and find out where to get help and support