While there is no 'safe' level of drinking, the UK Chief Medical Officer provides guidelines on drinking at lower risk levels.

Regularly exceeding these low risk guidelines increases your chances of developing a long term health problem as well as increasing your risk of accidental injury and harm in the short term.

The UK Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk drinking guidelines

The Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines for both men and women are:

  • to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis
  • if you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread your drinking evenly over 3 or more days
  • if you have 1 or 2 heavy drinking episodes a week, you increase your risks of death from long term illness and from accidents and injuries
  • the risk of developing a range of health problems, including cancers of the mouth, throat and breast, increases the more you drink on a regular basis
  • if you want to cut down the amount you drink, a good way is to have several drink-free days each week

Read the Low Risk Drinking Guidelines here.

Take an alcohol self-assessment test to find out whether alcohol could be impacting on your health.

What does 14 units look like?

14 units is the equivalent of:

  • 6 pints of beer or
  • 6 medium sized glasses of wine or
  • 14 single measures of spirits

It is best to spread this evenly across the week rather than drinking all at once. Having several alcohol-free days each week is a good way to cut down.

You can find out more about alcohol units and calculate your alcohol intake using the Count 14 website

Drink less, feel better

It is sometimes hard to tell if you are drinking more than is good for you. Many people drink more than they think, especially when drinking at home.

Short term benefits - you may notice you sleep better, have improved concentration, lose weight, save money, and you certainly won’t miss the fuzzy head and nausea of a hangover.

In the longer term, you will be doing your health a big favour by reducing your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, at least seven different types of cancer and liver damage.

Tips for safer drinking

We’ve compiled a few tips that might help you cut down your alcohol use or reduce your risk of long-term health harms or accidents and injuries.

  • Have food before and during drinking
  • Drink plenty of water in between alcoholic drinks
  • Use a measure to pour drinks at home
  • Check the strength of your drink - brands can vary dramatically
  • Set a budget for a night out and stick to it
  • Have several alcohol-free days each week

Recognising a problem

Many people consider themselves to be moderate drinkers, when in fact they are drinking more than the low-risk guidelines.

Signs that you or someone you care about may have a problem with alcohol:

  • not being able to socialise without a drink
  • struggling at work or in education because of hangovers
  • missing days at work, college or university
  • poor concentration
  • spending a lot of money on alcohol
  • relationships with family and friends are strained
  • feeling irritable without a drink
  • becoming defensive or angry when challenged about their drinking
  • hiding drinking from others or lying about their drinking

Some people are able to cut down on their drinking themselves, or with the support of a friend or family member. Others go to their GP who will offer advice or direct them to appropriate counselling or treatment services that can help. Many people also find mutual aid or recovery communities/groups really helpful, particularly if they’re looking to stop drinking altogether.

Helping someone with an alcohol problem

Alcohol problems don’t always only affect the person drinking, it can also affect those closest to them.

If you are worried about someone you care about e.g. a partner, relative or friend, who may be experiencing problems with alcohol, you may want to consider the following:

  • The person is experiencing a health problem, not simply ‘making bad choices’
  • Sometimes, people can be in denial about having an alcohol problem
  • You might want to have a conversation with them, explaining that you are worried about their health, or how their drinking is affecting you. It can be best to do this in a compassionate way
  • You are not to blame for someone else having an alcohol problem
  • Supporting a friend or loved one can be very helpful for them, but you need to protect yourself as well. It is absolutely OK to set firm boundaries and ask for them to be respected
  • You are not responsible for someone else’s health or recovery
  • You may want to learn more about alcohol or alcohol problems so you understand what the person might be going through

It can be difficult for someone to admit they need help. Offering to accompany them to visit their GP, who may offer advice and support or will direct them to appropriate services or groups which can help, is a good place to begin.

If someone else’s drinking is affecting you, it can be stressful. Even if you are trying to help, you may not get a good reaction, or the person may experience setbacks which might also affect how you feel. There is help and support available for friends and family members affected by someone else’s drinking.

Get support

Drinkline provides advice for anyone who is worried about their own or someone else's drinking – phone 0800 731 4314, available Monday to Friday, 9am to 9pm and Saturday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm.

The figures

> 1 in 5
people exceeded drinking guidelines in 2022