A very simple guide to safe drinking

A very simple guide to safe drinking

Like, what exactly is a unit?

How much booze is a unit, and is binge drinking really that bad for you? Here's our simple guide to alcohol...

The sudden, tragic death of Tim Bergling, better known as DJ Avicii, has shone a light on the issue of booze and drinking responsibly.

The 28-year-old was found dead in Muscat, Oman on Friday evening, and although although investigators are yet to confirm the cause of death, there's speculation that alcohol abuse may have played a part.

Avicii was very open about his difficult relationship with alcohol. 

In an interview with TIME magazine in 2013, he explained: "I was drinking way too much, partying in general way too much.

"Then I got a pancreatitis attack [at 21], which is very rare. So that forced me to do a 180 and stop drinking."

But when it comes to booze - how much is too much? What does a unit of alcohol actually look like? And is it really worse to drink all your units in one night rather than throughout the week?

Here's everything you need to know...

What exactly does a unit look like?

So let's start with the basics - how many units are we allowed to drink a week? 

Official NHS guidelines state that we shouldn't be drinking more than 14 units per week - and that's the case whether you're male or female. 

But what is one unit of booze? Well, that's where it gets confusing.

A unit is going to look completely different depending on what you’re drinking. So a pint of standard beer is two units, whereas a single measure of a 40% spirit is just one (which seems a bit counterintuitive, but hey).

Thankfully, the guys at Drinkaware have created the handy graphic (below), which explains things much better than we can.


Not all booze is created equal

You know how some days you seem to get drunk quicker than others, even though you've drunk the same number of glasses? 

Well that could well be down to the alcohol percentage in the booze you're drinking. 

You might think that all beers and all wines are the same strength, but they're not. 

While a 'standard beer' is 4%, lots of fancy hipster beers have much higher percentages - some even reaching double figures. 

The same applies to wine. Wine strengths can vary hugely, and even small strength increases can make a big difference when it comes to how many units you're drinking. 

For instance, while a large glass (250ml) of 11% ABV wine is 2.8 units, the same size glass of a 14% wine counts as 3.5 units. 

So basically, if you really want to keep within your 14 units limit, you need to start paying attention to the alcohol percentage of the booze you drink (as well as the number of glasses you knock back).

Yes, you may be *that* person who’s holding up the bar queue by asking loads of questions, but it will be worth it in the long run.


Percentage matters

While we're on the subject of alcohol strength... although a pint of 4% beer and two shots of a 40% spirit both count as one unit, processing the spirit is tougher on your body.

The reason? Alcohol strength. 

Josh Brown, a post graduate medical student at Queen's University Belfast, explained why drinking a pint is ultimately less harmful than knocking back two shots, telling us: "Drinking too much of any alcohol will lead to the same damages to the liver and stomach, but the higher the percentage, the quicker this will happen while requiring less drinking of physical fluid."

So basically - although a shot of vodka and half pint are both technically one unit, drinking low-percentage beer will put less strain on your body than a high-percentage spirit. 


Is binge drinking really that bad?

Basically, yes.

According to the NHS, binge drinking is commonly defined as consuming more than six units of alcohol in a single session. 

So although drinking 14 vodka and cokes in one night and then staying sober for the rest of the week means you’re technically within your unit limit, you shouldn’t do it.

But why? 

Dr Andrew Thornber, Chief Medical Officer at Now Patient told us: "Your body can only process one unit of alcohol per hour, so when you drink multiple units in a short space of time it puts extreme pressure on your body - especially your liver, heart and circulatory system."

He added: "Over the long term, binge drinking can lead to liver damage or disease and can severally affect the function of other vital organs."

So - how should you consume your units? 

Well Drinkaware recommend you spread your units out over three days, making sure there are days between where you don't drink at all. 

Yes, that's not going to always be possible (stag weekends - we're looking at you!), but it's good to know what you're aiming for, right? 


What are the warning signs that your boozing's out of control? 

Worried that you or someone you know might have an issue with booze? Well here are the early warning signs of alcohol dependency according to Drinkaware and the NHS...

  • Worry about where your next drink is going to come from and planning your social, family and work events around alcohol
  • Finding you have a compulsive need to drink and finding it hard to stop 
  • Waking up and drinking, or feeling the need to have a drink in the morning 
  • Feelings of anxiety, alcohol related depression, and suicidal feelings  
  • Suffering from physical withdrawal symptoms (sweating, shaking and nausea)

If you think that you or someone you know may be dependent on alcohol here are some helpful resources:

Alcoholics Anonymous UK

0800 9177 650

Al- Anon (for friends and family)

020 7403 0888

Alcohol Concern

0300 123 1110

Mental Health Foundation

020 7803 1100

(Header image: Pexels)