Alcohol units

We're supposed to be keeping an eye on how much we drink, but how many of us really know what a unit of alcohol is?

With so many different drinks and glass sizes, from shots to pints – not to mention bottles – it's easy to get confused about how many units are in your drink.

The idea of counting alcohol units was first introduced in the UK in 1987 to help people keep track of their drinking.

Units are a simple way of expressing the quantity of pure alcohol in a drink. One unit equals 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol, which is around the amount of alcohol the average adult can process in an hour. This means that within an hour there should be, in theory, little or no alcohol left in the blood of an adult, although this will vary from person to person.

The number of units in a drink is based on the size of the drink as well as its alcohol strength. For example, a pint of strong lager contains 3 units of alcohol, whereas the same volume of standard lager has just over 2 units.

Calculating units

Using units is a simpler way of representing a drink's alcohol content – usually expressed by the standard measure ABV, which stands for alcohol by volume.

ABV is a measure of the amount of pure alcohol as a percentage of the total volume of liquid in a drink.

You can find the ABV on the labels of cans and bottles, sometimes written as "vol" or "alcohol volume" or you can ask bar staff about particular drinks.

For example, wine that says "12% ABV" or "alcohol volume 12%" means that 12% of the volume of that drink is pure alcohol.

You can work out how many units there are in any drink by multiplying the total volume of a drink (in ml) by its ABV (which is measured as a percentage) and dividing the result by 1,000.

  • Strength (ABV) x volume (ml) ÷ 1,000 = units.

For example, to work out the number of units in a pint (568ml) of strong lager (ABV 5.2%):

  • 5.2 (%) x 568 (ml) ÷ 1,000 = 2.95 units

Drinks and units

A 750ml bottle of red, white or rosé wine (ABV 13.5%) contains 10 units.

See the guide below to find out how many units are in your favourite tipple.


*Gin, rum, vodka, whisky, tequila, sambuca. Large (35ml) single measures of spirits are 1.4 units.

The NHS recommends:

  • Men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day.
  • Women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day.
  • If you've had a heavy drinking session, avoid alcohol for 48 hours.

    "Regularly" means drinking this amount every day or most days of the week.

    Page last reviewed: 26/04/2015

    Next review due: 26/04/2017


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    The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

    LidLed said on 28 April 2015

    I am concerned that efforts to address alcohol intake are aimed at the symptoms and not the underlying cause. Issues such as quality of life are conveniently avoided, possibly due to the political challenges that these present.
    I am also very concerned that the increase in ABV over recent years has significantly contributed to the problem, but has conveniently been ignored.
    The excuses given by manufacturers as:
    1. "raising the level to match the continent" simply doesn't wash. The continental style of drinking is different and not in such volumes.
    2. "responding to changes in the consumer's preference" is also shoddy. If you keep feeding a child chocolate, it will eat until sick.
    As an ale drinker, I often get frustrated trying to find an ale that is under 4.5% ABV. There are plenty and they are quite nice to drink, mainly because you can taste them. Only enough, large supermarkets always tend to offer deals on 5% or over.
    Finally whoever introduced "alco-pops" created one of the most dangerous social gaffes in history. Not only do they significantly increase the alcohol levels unwittingly consumed by females, they also have ( as was predicted) lead to an increase in youth drinking.
    Significantly increasing the tax on alco-pops and beer over 4.5% ABV would:
    increase revenue to spend on the health effects created by these;
    help reverse the recent increase in strength of alcohol commonly consumed;
    do so without punishing responsible drinkers.
    But then, I'm not an influential person or anyone with political power.

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    Charmouth said on 22 January 2015

    There is a straight-forward way of calculating alcohol units. 1 litre (1000ml/cc) of 100% alcohol = 100 units.
    1 litre of 1% alcohol = 1 unit (The definition)
    A litre bottle of 12% wine = 12 units
    a 750ml bottle of 12% wine = 9 units
    A litre of 5% lager = 5 units
    A pint (570ml) of 5% lager = 3 units

    If you remember line 2 or 3 above, the rest is simple!

    I don't know why such websites never state the definition of the Unit in this way - in a talk by a Cardiac Nurse I went to last year she admitted she did not know how a Unit was defined.

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    Hyperchio said on 17 November 2012

    a bottle of wine averages about 9 units

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    vicjason125 said on 23 November 2011

    i think i am correct in saying the average botle of wine (12%) contains approx 9 units which is about 3 times the drink drive limit

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    jaringa said on 02 July 2011

    Quite useful info in here.

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    positivefeedback said on 05 June 2011

    It would be helpful to have the number of units per bottle of wine - as this is a standard size we all can understand and measure our consumption by.

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