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.

Low-risk drinking advice

To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level if you drink most weeks:

  • men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis 
  • spread your drinking over three or more days if you regularly drink as much as 14 units a week
  • if you want to cut down, try to have several drink-free days each week

If you're pregnant or think you could become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.

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's called "low risk" rather than "safe" because there is no safe drinking level.

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

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 any single occasion can increase your risk of:

  • accidents resulting in injury, causing death in some cases
  • misjudging risky situations
  • losing self-control, like having unprotected sex 

To reduce your health risks on any single session:

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

Find out more

Page last reviewed: 24/02/2016

Next review due: 24/02/2018

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 660 ratings

All ratings

320  ratings
132  ratings
39  ratings
29  ratings
140  ratings

Add your rating

Useful links

NHS Choices links

Services near you

Find addresses, phone numbers and websites for services near you

Drinking and alcohol

Practical tips to help you cut down, plus information on low-risk drinking, how alcohol affects your health, and understanding units

Want to find out how healthy you are?

Take our quiz to see how you score