HOW MANY UNITS PER WEEK IS SAFE?

There are no safe limits for alcohol intake due to alcohol being a causal factor in certain cancers. The Chief Medical Officer for England Dame Sally Davies said: “Drinking any level of alcohol regularly carries a health risk for anyone, but if men and women limit their intake to no more than 14 units a week it keeps the risk of illness like cancer and liver disease low.

 
 
It is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week

It is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week

The official guideline

The Chief Medical Officers’ guideline for both men and women is that:

  • To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.

  • If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread your drinking evenly over 3 or more days. If you have one or two heavy drinking episodes a week, you increase your risks of death from long term illness and from accidents and injuries.

  • The risk of developing a range of health problems (including cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases the more you drink on a regular basis.

  • If you wish to cut down the amount you drink, a good way to help achieve this is to have several alcohol-free days each week.

Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby

Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby

The guideline for pregnant women

The Chief Medical Officers’ guideline for pregnant women is that:

  • If you are pregnant or think you could become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.

  • Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink the greater the risk. The risk of harm to the baby is likely to be low if you have drunk only small amounts of alcohol before you knew you were pregnant or during pregnancy. If you find out you are pregnant after you have drunk alcohol during early pregnancy, you should avoid further drinking. You should be aware that it is unlikely in most cases that your baby has been affected. If you are worried about alcohol use during pregnancy do talk to your doctor or midwife.

People on medications may need to avoid alcohol altogether

People on medications may need to avoid alcohol altogether

The guideline for those with other risk factors

Remember that the official guidelines reflect low risk and do not mean that there is no risk. Some people with certain risk factors may experience harm even at low levels of drinking including:

  • People with compromised livers

  • People on medications

  • People with mental health issues

  • People with eating disorders or poor nutrition

  • People with other chronic health conditions such as diabetes

  • Some genetic conditions which affect iron levels

It is best to speak to your GP or health professional to get personalised advice around what weekly levels are safe for you.


Drinking any level of alcohol regularly carries a health risk for anyone, but if men and women limit their intake to no more than 14 units a week it keeps the risk of illness like cancer and liver disease low.
— Chief Medical Officer for England – Dame Sally Davies

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