The surest way to reduce the risk of alcohol-related liver disease is to stick within the low-risk drinking guidelines.
If you want to change your drinking and cut down, you’re not alone. Download our handy guide with information and tips to help you make a change and love your liver.
What are the UK alcohol guidelines?
If you drink alcohol, keep the health risks low by following this advice:
- Do not drink more than 14 units of alcohol in a week
- Spread drinking out over several days
- Have 2 to 3 alcohol-free days a week, it’s even better if they’re in a row
As well as not drinking too much alcohol in total, it’s also important not to drink too much in one session. This can cause immediate harm to your liver, especially if it is already damaged. It also makes accidents and injuries more likely.
Having some alcohol-free days each week gives your liver a chance to recover. The liver has a special ability to repair itself, up to a point. Giving it a break from alcohol each week can help stop damage building up over time and leading to serious liver disease.
What is a unit of alcohol?
Alcohol is measured in units. They tell you how much alcohol is in your drink and help to compare between different sizes and strengths of drink – for example a single measure of spirits compared to a pint of beer. One unit is the same as 2 teaspoons of pure alcohol.
The alcohol by volume (ABV) tells you the alcoholic strength of a drink. Either the ABV or the number of units in the drink should be included on the label.
The table below tells you how many units there in lots of different drinks, rounded to the nearest half a unit of alcohol.
|Wine (all types). Sparkling wine tends to be less strong.|
|750ml bottle||13% ABV||10 units|
|175ml glass||13% ABV||2.5 units|
|125ml glass||12% ABV||1.5 units|
|Beer, ale, lager and cider. Watch out for high strength drinks, try a smaller serving – some pubs offer one- and two-third servings as well as pints and halves.|
|1 pint||4% ABV||2.5 units|
|1 pint||5% ABV||3 units|
|Half pint||7% ABV||2 units|
|1 pint||7% ABV||4 units|
|Spirits (with or without a mixer). In England and Wales, a single is always 25ml. But in Scotland and Northern Ireland it can be 25ml or 35ml.|
|25ml single measure||40% ABV||1 unit|
|35ml single measure||40% ABV||1.5 units|
|Alcopops, ready-to-drink and pre-mixed drinks.|
|250ml bottle or can||4% ABV||1 unit|
NICE guidelines recommend that men who regularly drink over 50 units of alcohol per week and women who drink over 35 units of alcohol per week should be offered transient elastography (often called a FibroScan). To check for liver damage.
50 units is about 16 pints of beer a week or about five and a half bottles of wine. 35 units is about 11 pints of beer or just under 4 bottles of wine. But this will depend on the strength of the alcohol. Some beer and wine will have more units of alcohol.
There are lots of different ways to cut down on alcohol, try some out and stick with the ones that work for you. Don’t worry about the odd slip up, no one can be perfect all the time – the most important thing is to keep going. Think over what happened and why, is there something you could do differently in future?
If you have physical withdrawal symptoms, like shaking, sweating or feeling anxious until you have your first drink of the day, speak to a doctor before trying to cut down or stop drinking. It can be dangerous to stop drinking suddenly.
It can help to be clear in your mind about what you mean by cutting down – is there a particular limit you want to set yourself, for units or drinks? Do you want to have more drink-free days? Or is it more about no longer drinking in certain situations, for example if pub lunches are a regular thing where you work? Telling someone else, like a partner or friend, can also help you to set a clear goal and stick to it.
If you aren’t sure where to start, try one of these ideas:
- Choose a lower strength drink, or go for a low or no alcohol version. Beer, wine or a cocktail, there’s lots of choice. The key number is the ABV.
- Set yourself a budget. You might be surprised at how much you spend on alcohol. Cut down by giving yourself a fixed budget – and save up the extra money for a treat, like a family day out or some new clothes.
- Buddy up and cut down with a friend. You can help one another stick to your goals.
- Track your drinks so you know where you started and can see the progress you’re making. It can help you cut down too. Visit Alcohol Change to download a free drinks tracker.
- Go half and half and have a shandy or a spritzer. Or make every other drink a soft one, starting with your first.
- Stay out of rounds and in control. Don’t let other people set the pace. It’s easy to drink more than you meant to when you’re keeping up with the group.
- Don’t top up your glass as it’s easy to lose track of how much alcohol you’ve really had. Try measuring the glasses you use at home, so you know how much you’re drinking.
- Only drink alcohol with your evening meal. Cut out drinks before or afterwards.
- Do something different when you go out – try bowling, the cinema or going for a coffee instead of heading to the pub.
Download some of our top tips for cutting down – either for yourself or a friend.
Lots of people struggle to cut down on drinking, so there’s no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed. Deciding to make a change is the most important step. If you need support, you could:
- Speak to your GP.
They can refer you to local alcohol services who can help you understand your drinking and either cut down or stop – whichever is best for you.
Find out more about what alcohol care teams do in our blog.
- Call Drinkline. A national alcohol helpline. Calls are free and completely confidential. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am-8pm and weekends 11am-4pm).
- Contact Alcoholics Anonymous. They offer support to stop drinking throughout the UK. Call free on 0800 9177 650 or visit www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk.
- Contact Smart Recovery. A charity that promotes addiction recovery through meetings and online resources, including online meetings. Visit www.smartrecovery.org.uk