Binge drinking

Binge drinking usually refers to drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time or drinking to get drunk.

UK researchers commonly define binge drinking as consuming more than eight units of alcohol in a single session for men, and more than six units for women.

  • Eight units is just over three pints of 4% strength beer.
  • Six units is just over two large glasses (175ml) of 13% strength wine.

For more examples, use Drinkaware's unit calculator.

This is not an exact definition for binge drinking that applies to everyone, as tolerance to alcohol can vary from person to person and the speed of drinking in a session can also alter alcohol's effects.  

Drinking too much, too quickly on a 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 

How to reduce your risk

To reduce your health risk from binge drinking, try to: 

  • limit how much you drink on any single occasion 
  • drink more slowly
  • drink with food
  • alternate with water or non-alcoholic drinks
  • plan ahead to avoid problems, such as making sure you can get home safely or have people you trust with you

Keeping track of your drinking is even more important if you are out in risky or unfamiliar circumstances. You can be at risk from others, and may not be able to look after your friends.

You can easily lose control of what you do or say and may make risky decisions, thinking you're invulnerable.

How alcohol affects you drink by drink

Below is a drink-by-drink guide, based on a standard (175ml) 12% volume glass of white wine and 4% strength pint of lager, showing how quickly alcohol can affect your mind and body.

One glass of white wine or a pint of lager (approximately two units):

  • You're talkative and you feel relaxed.
  • Your self-confidence increases.
  • Driving ability is already impaired, which is why it's best to drink no alcohol if you're driving.

Two glasses of white wine or two pints of lager (approximately four units):

  • Your blood flow increases.
  • You feel less inhibited and your attention span is shorter.
  • You start dehydrating, one of the causes of a hangover.

Three glasses of white wine or three pints of lager (approximately six units):

  • Your reaction time is slower.
  • Your liver has to work harder.
  • Your sex drive may increase, while your judgement may decrease.

Four glasses of white wine or 3.5 pints of lager (approximately eight units):

  • You're easily confused.
  • You're noticeably emotional.
  • Your sex drive could now decrease and you may become less capable.

Bear in mind that some people, including women, young people and those with smaller builds, may experience the effects after drinking smaller amounts of alcohol.

If you find you have become tolerant to the effects of alcohol, you may be at risk of health problems.

In that case, consider whether it's time to cut back on your drinking or you need to seek help.

How to reduce your risk from alcohol

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

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

Find out how to treat a hangover

Page last reviewed: 31/12/2016

Next review due: 31/12/2019

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Drinking and alcohol

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