Find us on Facebook

alcohol health alliance uk

Alcohol Units Challenge highlights confusion over units

Alcohol Units Challenge

Alcohol Units Challenge

Posted 01/06/18

How many of us really know how many alcohol units we drink each week? If you are not sure then you are in good company!

Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, took to the streets of the North East this week inviting people to take part in an “Alcohol Units Challenge”, asking how many units we should stick to each week, and what does one single unit of alcohol look like?

The results were surprising, with clear shock about how easy it is to exceed the “low risk” limits of drinking no more than 14 units a week, potentially putting health at risk.

Adults in the North East were asked in the challenge if they knew current health guidance for alcohol units per week, how many units were in a glass of wine, spirits and beer and how many units they drank per week.

Only one person knew the current Chief Medical Officer guidelines for men and women and everyone underestimated the units of alcohol in drinks.

Regional figures show the participants are not alone. Nearly half a million adults in the North East are drinking enough alcohol to increase the health risks – with the majority underestimating their intake and most not aware of alcohol guidelines.

The Chief Medical Officer guideline for men and women is that it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level. The guideline was launched in January 2016 but only around 16% of North East adults were aware of the figure by 2017.

The research is part of the Balance “Can’t See It” campaign highlighting that drinking increases the risks of seven different types of cancer. With 89% of North East adults drinking (around 1,869,000 people), it suggests:

• Over 1 in 4 North East drinkers (26%) are exceeding the Chief Medical Officer guidelines of no more than 14 units per week to stay “low risk”. That suggests an estimated 485,940 people exceeding the recommended guideline.

• The heaviest drinking is seen among people aged 45-54, with 30% of drinkers in that age group exceeding the weekly guidelines of no more than 14 units per week.

• More than 8 out of 10 (84%) people drinking above 14 units per week consider themselves to be light or moderate drinkers. This suggests an estimated 408,189 adults in our region drinking at increasing or higher risk levels while under-estimating their own drinking risks.


Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “When we asked people on the street about their knowledge of alcohol units its clear there’s confusion about the low risk guidelines and that some people are drinking above these. Keeping track of the amount you’re drinking can slip your mind.

“Our research has shown that more than 1 in 4 drinkers in our region are putting themselves at greater risk of cancer and other health conditions such a heart disease or stroke by exceeding the no more than 14 units per week of alcohol.

“This is why we are arguing for units to be included on alcohol packaging and for the government to invest in information campaigns to help people make more informed choices.”

Balance is encouraging people to take at least 2 or 3 days off drinking every week as a way of cutting down to 14 units or under and reducing the risks of an alcohol related disease.

You can watch the Alcohol Units challenge video here.