A selection of alcoholic drinks including wine and beer

Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol can have a harmful effect on your heart and general health.

It can cause abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, damage to your heart muscle and other diseases such as stroke, liver problems and some cancers.

Alcohol is also high in calories so it can lead to weight gain.  It also lowers your inhibitions which might mean you find it harder to stick to your healthy eating plans when you have been drinking.

If you are trying to lose weight, cut down on alcohol.

How much can I drink?

If you drink alcohol it is important to keep within the guidelines:

  • Men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol each week.
  • You should have several alcohol-free days each week.

These guidelines apply whether you drink regularly, or only occasionally.

Most people don’t drink alcohol every day - but if you do, you should aim to have some days off. Just make sure you don’t increase the amount you drink on the other days. If you do drink as much as 14 units per week, spread this our evenly over three days or more.

Drinking large amounts of alcohol in one go can cause additional damage to your body, so avoid heavy or ‘binge’ drinking – you can’t save up your units!  If you drink too much, avoid alcohol for 48 hours to allow your body time to recover.

How much is one unit of alcohol?

A unit is a measure of alcohol.  The number of units is based on the size of the drink and its alcohol strength (ABV).  The ABV (alcohol by volume) figure is the percentage of alcohol in the drink.

  • A single pub measure (25mls) of spirits (40% ABV) contains one unit of alcohol.
  • A glass (50 ml) of liqueur, sherry or other fortified wine (20% ABV) contains one unit of alcohol.
  • Half a pint (about 300mls) of normal strength (4% ABV) lager, cider or beer contains 1.1 unit of alcohol - be aware that many beers and ciders are stronger and have a higher volume than this.
  • A standard 175ml glass of wine (13% ABV) would be 2.3 units - be aware that many wines have a higher alcohol content and the size of glasses may be bigger.

Is it true alcohol can be good for your heart?

There may be some heart health benefits for women over the age of 55 as long as they have no more than five units in a week. However, we would not advise you to start drinking if you don't already. There are safer and healthier ways to protect your heart.

It is more important to start doing more physical activity, eat a healthy, balanced diet and to stop smoking.

Find out more about recent alcohol guidance

Are the recommendations different if I have a heart condition?

Find out more about alcohol and heart conditions.

Find out more