Your guide to alcohol units

Alcohol consumption in Ireland

There’s nothing wrong with drinking in moderation – but drinking too much can pose all sorts of risks to our mental and physical health. And according to one study, the average Irishman or woman is not only drinking too much alcohol, but they’re also drinking more and more each year.

In 2015, pure alcohol consumption was 10.93 litres per person (over the age of 15). In 2016 that number went up by 4.8% to 11.46 litres. Factoring in the proportion of the population who don’t drink, it’s estimated that the average adult in Ireland drank the equivalent of almost 500 pints of beer in 2015.

If you’re struggling to cut back your alcohol consumption, it would be worth familiarising yourself with how alcohol units work in Ireland.

How much alcohol is in a unit?

The first thing to know is that alcohol units in Ireland are bigger than alcohol units in the UK. In Ireland, a unit (or a ‘standard drink’) contains 10g of pure alcohol. In Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, a unit contains 8g of pure alcohol.

One standard drink, or one Irish unit of alcohol, ordered in a pub in Dublin equates to:

  • One small glass of wine (12.5% volume)
  • One half pint of regular strength beer
  • One standard measure (35ml) of spirits
  • One regular bottle of alcopops

Order the same drinks in Belfast or London and the units will usually work out differently. A standard measure of spirits in the UK, for instance, is 25ml and classed as one unit; 35ml would be classed as a large measure and would contain around 1.4 units.

What is the recommended alcohol intake per week?

The current guidance is that, to keep your alcohol consumption under control, you should stick to the following units/standard drinks:

  • Up to 11 units/standard drinks per week if you are a woman
  • Up to 17 units/standard drinks per week if you are a man

11 standard drinks equates roughly to:

  • One (12.5% volume) bottle of wine and 4 single measures of spirits
  • 4 pints of regular strength beer and 3 small glasses of wine

17 standard drinks equates roughly to:

  • 2 (12.5% volume) bottles of wine and 3 single measures of spirits
  • 6 pints of beer and 5 small glasses of wine

It’s recommended that you space these drinks out over the course of the week, trying to leave two or three days on when you don’t drink any alcohol.

You may think that, because you have a higher alcohol tolerance, you can drink more units than recommended – but this is not a healthy approach! Having a high alcohol tolerance puts you at risk of alcohol dependence. To ‘reset’ your alcohol tolerance, take a break from drinking; when you take it up again, get into the habit of having a few drink-free days each week.

Alcohol strength

Remember that different alcohols have different strengths, and this will affect the associated numbers of units in a standard measure. Many craft beers are a lot stronger than commercial beers; this is why craft beer pubs sometimes serve their drinks in smaller glasses.

How can I work out how much I’m drinking?

If you think you may be drinking too much, you should start keeping track of what you’re drinking over the course of a standard week. When you order drinks at a pub or bar, keep a record on your phone. At home, use a spirit measure when you make mixed drinks. When drinking beer and wine, keep track of how many cans/how much of a bottle you have consumed. You may find it helpful to buy half bottles (375ml) of wine, which contain around 3.5 standard drinks.

Enter this information (along with your gender) into the Ask About Alcohol drinks calculator to find out if you are drinking too much. This calculator also provides a financial aspect, letting you know how much money you are spending over the course of a year, and how many calories you are consuming.

How can I cut back on my drinking?

It’s not always easy to reduce your alcohol consumption, but the first step is usually to start keeping track of how much you are drinking each week (as described above).

Once you know how many units/standard drinks you are consuming you can make a plan to cut back to the low-risk limit – bearing in mind that the 11 or 17 standard drinks limit applies to adults in good health and not teenagers, pregnant women, or people with long-term medical conditions.

Try to keep at least two days per week where you don’t drink, and on the days where you do drink avoid bingeing. Binge drinking is defined by the HSE as consuming six or more standard drinks in quick succession.

During the festive season, people are more likely to binge drink. Where possible, try to stick to your weekly plan and don’t cave to pressure from friends or family. Skip the booze for at least two days a week, and try to stick to the low-risk guidelines.

If you’re drinking a lot in one session (e.g. on Christmas Day), try to alternate alcoholic drinks with glasses of water or soft drinks.

For more information on drinking safely, visit Ask About Alcohol, or Drink Aware.

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