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Alcohol misuse

Alcohol misuse is when you drink in a way that is harmful, or when you are dependent on alcohol. To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, both men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week. There are short and long terms risks associated with alcohol misuse, such as increased risk of heart disease, stroke or cancer or social impacts such as relationship breakdown or losing your job.

Evidence shows that alcohol use has increased over lockdown, so we wanted to provide you with some simple information and useful signposting to other resources so that you can be informed about how many units you may be consuming and how to recognise if you need further support. 

Alcohol misuse is when you drink in a way that is harmful, or when you are dependent on alcohol. To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, both men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week.

There are both short and long term risks of alcohol misuse, including:

  • Accidents and injuries (e.g. head injury)
  • Violent behaviour and being a victim of violence
  • Unprotected sex, which can lead to unplanned pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases
  • Losing personal possessions
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Increased risk of heart disease, stroke, liver disease, pancreatitis and several cancers
  • Social problems such as unemployment, domestic abuse, relationship breakdown and homelessness

We're supposed to be keeping an eye on how much we drink, but how many of us really know what a unit of alcohol is? With so many different drinks and glass sizes, from shots to pints – not to mention bottles – it's easy to get confused about how many units are in your drink. Knowing your units will help you stay in control of your drinking. It is important to remember that the risk to your health is increased by drinking any amount of alcohol on a regular basis.

A unit of alcohol is 8g or 10ml of pure alcohol (which is around the amount of alcohol the average adult can process in an hour), and is about:

  • Half a pint of lower to normal-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6%)
  • A single small shot measure (25ml) of spirits (25ml, ABV 40%)
  • A small glass (125ml, ABV 12%) of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol

Find out more about alcohol units or use this quick guide to work out how many units are in your favourite pint of beer or glass of wine. You can work out the ABV (alcohol by volume) of any drink using Alcohol Change UK's unit calculator.

To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level if you drink most weeks (regular or frequent drinking means drinking alcohol most days and weeks):  

  • Men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis
  • Spread your drinking over 3 or more days if you regularly drink as much as 14 units a week
  • If you want to cut down, try to have several drink-free days each week
  • If you're pregnant or trying to become pregnant, the safest approach is to not drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum


Losing control of drinking habits and having an excessive desire to drink is known as dependent drinking (alcoholism). Dependent drinking usually affects a person's quality of life and relationships, but they may not always find it easy to see or accept this. You may be misusing alcohol if: -

  • You feel you should cut down on your drinking
  • Other people have been criticising your drinking
  • You feel bad or guilty about your drinking
  • You need a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover
  • You are regularly drinking more than 14 units a week
  • You’re sometimes unable to remember what happened the night before because of drinking
  • You fail to do what is expected of you because of your drinking (e.g. missing work or an appointment because you are drunk or hungover)


The first hurdle is to recognise that you may have a problem with drinking – if you are concerned about your drinking a good first step is to talk to your GP who will be able to discuss the services and treatments available. As well as the NHS, there are a number of charities and support groups across the UK that provide support and advice for people with an alcohol misuse problem.

Drinkline national alcohol helpline on 0300 123 1110

Alcohol Change UK

Alcoholics Anonymous helpline on 0800 9177 650

Al-Anon Family Groups helpline on 020 7403 0888

See a full list of alcohol charities and support groups


North Yorkshire Horizons is a drug and alcohol recovery service provided on behalf of North Yorkshire County Council. Their aim is to help as many people as possible to recover from and be free from drug and alcohol dependency. They want to reduce the harm that is caused to individuals, families and communities. Those who access the service will get their own worker, who will support and guide them. Everyone’s road to recovery is different and North Yorkshire Horizons know that.

Those who access the service can get

  • One-to-one support,
  • Support in groups
  • A health and well-being check including health screenings,
  • Blood testing and vaccinations.

They look at underlying problems, at what sets people off and they help people cope with their emotions as they recover from addiction. The service can also provide substitute medication where appropriate and detox support in the community.

Action on Addiction provide life-saving treatment for individuals and families affected by all kinds of addiction including alcohol, drugs (prescribed and nonprescribed), gambling, gaming, sex and love, and some food-related disorders.

Adfam is a national charity tackling the effects of alcohol, drug use or gambling on family members and friends, aiming to improve life for thousands of people.

Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 and since then has helped more than 2 million people who were drinking to excess and asked for help. AA is concerned solely with the personal recovery and continued sobriety of individual alcoholics who turn to the Fellowship for help. Alcoholics Anonymous does not engage in the fields of alcoholism research, medical or psychiatric treatment, education, or advocacy in any form, although members may participate in such activities as individuals.

Alcohol Change UK is a leading UK alcohol charity – the organisation is not anti-alcohol; they are for alcohol change. They aim for a future in which people drink as a conscious choice, not a default; where the issues that lead to alcohol problems – like poverty, mental health issues, and homelessness – are addressed; where those of us who drink too much, and our loved ones, have access to high-quality support whenever we need it, without shame or stigma.

Al-Anon Family Groups UK & Eire is there for anyone whose life is or has been affected by someone else’s drinking. Their members provide meetings in all major towns and cities and are committed to being there for you when you need help. Whatever your relationship with the drinker, you will find other people who have similar stories to tell. You will realise that you are not alone. Listening to the shared experiences of others may help you find the confidence you need to deal with the effects of someone else's drinking. You will find it is possible to rediscover happiness, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not.

M-Alliance is a user led organisation, which provides advocacy, training and helpline services to those currently in drug or alcohol treatment, those who have accessed treatment in the past and those who may access treatment in the future.

Nacoa (The National Association for Children of Alcoholics) is a registered charity, founded in 1990 to address the needs of children growing up in families where one or both parents suffer from alcoholism or a similar addictive problem. This includes children of all ages, many of whose problems only become apparent in adulthood.

Turning Point is a leading social enterprise, providing health and social care services in over 300 locations across England. They work with people who need support with their drug and alcohol use, mental health, offending behaviour, unemployment issues and people with a learning disability. They aim to inspire and empower them to discover new possibilities in their lives.

We are With You provide free, confidential support to people experiencing issues with drugs, alcohol or mental health or for those who are concerned for someone else.