What is cholesterol and how can you reduce it

How much is too much alcohol?

Diet and Nutrition

11 July 2023

There are many reasons for opening a bottle of wine or having a cold beer which is generally not a problem if you're drinking alcohol responsibly and within the low risk guidelines.1

However, Raj Kundhi, senior physiologist at AXA Health, highlights the long-term health implications of excessive drinking and how keeping it under control can help make a big difference to your health and your happiness.

Scroll down to find out just how excessive alcohol can affect different parts of your body and how much is too much. We're also sharing some tips to help you cut down.

Alcohol Dry January_infographic_ 6 Jan 2017(2).jpg

So what are the "safe" limits when it comes to alcohol, and how can we stay within them?

Know your units

Men and women should:

  • drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week,
  • spread your units ideally over three days,
  • don't binge drink,
  • and have several alcohol-free days a week.

As a guide, one pint of normal strength lager of 4% equals two units and a single (25ml) measure of spirits (40%) equals one unit.

Drinkaware has a useful calculator on its website to check how many units you consumed on a particular occasion, and to give you an idea of the number of units - and calories - represented by different types and volumes of alcohol.2

The health risks

Raj advises that: "Regularly drinking more that the recommended guidelines can affect your health in many ways.

"Heavy drinkers increase their risk of developing high blood pressure, cancer (for women, especially breast cancer3), liver and heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis.

"Binge drinkers can also develop unpleasant short-term effects, such as sweating, shaking, bad skin, diarrhoea, blackouts and problems sleeping. And that’s as well as the long-term health problems.”

Tips for reducing alcohol consumption

If you regularly drink more than the recommended alcohol limits, then cutting down may be good for both your mental and physical health. As these tips show, it is possible to relax and enjoy a few drinks safely without overdoing it.

  1. Have a goal
    Set yourself a goal - this could be stopping altogether or planning alcohol-free days or weeks. Decide on a start date and stick to it.
  2. Eat something
    Food can slow down the rate that alcohol is absorbed into your system. Before going out, eat a healthy meal with a high carbohydrate content to help prepare your stomach.
  3. Downsize the supersize glasses
    Opt for smaller measures. Choose a small (125ml) glass rather than a large (250ml) one for wine. If you're drinking at home, buy smaller glasses for the house. 
  4. Stop the top-ups
    Stopping topping up your glass before it's empty can help you to keep track of how much you've had. Beware the over-vigilant host who won’t let your glass empty.
  5. Avoid drinking home alone
    It's easier to know how much you're drinking when you're paying for an individual measure at a pub or bar. However, when you're at home pouring your own measures you may not notice how much you are drinking. If you have a bottle of spirits then attach a pourer onto your bottle that measures out a single shot, or buy smaller bottles of wine.
  6. Sip your soda from a wine glass
    Drinking a soft drink from a glass you would usually fill with alcohol can be a great way to cut back without feeling like you're missing out. When you're trying to resist the pressure to have alcohol, get a drink that looks like it's an alcoholic one, or try alcohol-free versions.
  7. Weave in glasses of water
    Alcohol dehydrates you so it's important to drink water before you begin drinking and inbetween alcoholic drinks. People often guzzle the first drink because they're thirsty. Alternating alcoholic drinks with water or soft drinks will not only stop you getting too intoxicated, it will help reduce headaches and hangover symptoms the next day.
  8. Know your units and monitor your intake
    Keep a drink diary. Writing this on a regular basis will help you to work out how much you're drinking. Sites like this one on alcohol support by the NHScan help you work out the number of units in your drinks.
  9. Understand your triggers
    If you’re really trying to cut down on your alcohol intake, work out which situations you know will encourage you to drink and then look for alternatives - for example, if you're going out with friends suggest the cinema instead of the pub.
  10. Be cautious
    When going out for a drink, plan how you're going to get home before you leave. Make sure you've got numbers for taxis and keep aside enough money to get home safely. If you’re thinking of driving the next day, be aware that you may still be over the legal limit. Your body breaks down alcohol at a rate of about one unit per hour, starting one hour after your first drink - and there is no way you can speed up the process. Think about alternative methods of transport, or get a lift if possible.


  1. Weekly Guidelines - Drinkaware
  2. Units and calories in alcoholic drinks - Drinkaware
  3. Alcohol and breast cancer risk - Breast Cancer UK
  4. Alcohol Units - NHS

Sources used for infographic:

  • Alcohol increases your risk of getting breast cancer - Drinkaware
  • Health effects of alcohol - Drinkaware

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