The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (2010) in their public
health guidance on alcohol-use disorders provides the following definitions:
Hazardous drinking – A pattern of alcohol consumption that increases someone’s
risk of harm.
Harmful drinking – A pattern of alcohol consumption that is causing mental or
Higher-risk drinking – Regularly consuming over 50 alcohol units per week (adult
men) or over 35 units per week (adult women).
In the United Kingdom one unit is equivalent to half a pint of ordinary-strength
lager or beer or one shot (25 ml) of spirits, while a small (125 ml) glass of wine is
equal to 1.5 units. The unit measure has lost some of its value and simplicity because
few pubs or restaurants serve 125 ml glasses of wine (they are now either 175 ml
or 250 ml). Also, when the unit was devised wine was calculated as having on
average 9% alcohol, while most wines these days are 12–15%. Similarly, the alcohol
content of many beers and lagers is now more than it was when the unit system
was established. Previously, the alcohol content of beer and lager was estimated at
3.5–4.0%. Now most beers are stronger, 3.5–9.0%, with many popular beers at 5%.
The pub ‘measure’ of spirits has, in some pubs, been replaced by a 35 ml measure.
Recently, the number of units of alcohol in a bottle of wine has been printed on the
The Government strategy for public health (Cm 7985 2010) acknowledges the
deleterious impact of heavy drinking on health and the negative effect on others.
‘Drunkenness is associated with almost half of assault and more than a quarter of domestic
violence incidents’ (p.20, paragraph 1.31)