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Alcohol advice

Many of us enjoy a drink now and then, perhaps with dinner or when watching TV. But drinking on most nights of the week can be harmful to your health.

How do I know how much alcohol is in a drink?

It can be difficult to judge how strong an alcoholic drink is because they come in different strengths and sizes. Some types of drinks are stronger than others.

The amount of pure alcohol in a drink is always listed on the bottle’s label as a percentage, sometimes with the abbreviation ABV (this stands for alcohol-by-volume).

Alcoholic drinks are often measured in units. Understanding how many units are in your drink can help you think about how much to drink and how to spread your drinking throughout the day or week.

How much alcohol is too much?

Government guidance says that men and women shouldn’t regularly drink more than 14 units a week. If you regularly drink this many units, it’s better to spread your drinking over 3 or more days.

Go to the Unit Calculator to see how much you drink each week

Why can alcohol be harmful to my health?

Drinking alcohol on most evenings can cause sleep problems, dizziness or memory problems, and over time it can damage the liver, heart or brain.

In hot weather or if you’re dehydrated, the alcohol concentration in your body can be increased so you’re more sensitive to alcohol. It’s important to drink plenty of water in hot weather and stick to a normal diet to replace salt loss from sweating.

Alcohol can make some medical conditions worse and it may be best not to drink at all. If you have a long-term condition, ask your doctor about how much you can safely drink.

Can I mix alcohol and medications?

Mixing alcohol and medications – including prescription, over-the-counter, or herbal remedies – can be dangerous. Drinking alcohol can cause some medications to not work effectively or cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting and headaches.

Ask your doctor of pharmacist if it’s safe for you to drink alcohol with your medication. Be careful if you’re taking pain medication, sleeping pills or anti-depressants as it’s recommended that alcohol be avoided completely.

What help is available if I want to cut down?

If you think you might be drinking too much and would like to cut down or stop drinking, there is help available. Start by talking to your doctor who can give you advice about:

  • medications that help you adjust to drinking less
  • local support groups
  • counselling.

If you’re used to drinking alcohol regularly, it’s best to cut down gradually. If you’ve recently started drinking more, think about whether there could be an underlying reason for it, such as bereavement, loneliness, depression or retirement.

Go to Drink Aware if you are concerned about how much someone else is drinking and see where to find support services

What should I do next?

Take Drink Aware’s quiz to find out if you’re drinking too much

Use Drink Aware’s alcohol unit calculator to find out how many units of alcohol you regularly drink

Use the template in our free guide Healthyeating to complete an alcohol diary for 1 week

Contact the Drinkline helpline on 0300 123 1110 for information and advice.

Age NI Advice Service

Every year our Advice Service deals with thousands of calls from older people in need. Call us today to make sure that you are receiving all the help and support available to you.

Call freephone 0808 808 7575
Monday - Friday 9am – 5pm 


Last updated: May 05 2020

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