Alcohol survey: in-depth results

BHF staff explaining alcohol at a Health and Wellbeing day

Our alcohol survey showed up many interesting facts, including whether people lie about their drinking, and what kinds of things would make them cut down.

Lying about drinking

Our survey asked respondents if they’d ever lied about how much they’d drunk and said they’d drunk less than they actually had. One in five people (20%) said they’d lied to friends or family (ie partner, parents or children), and just over one in eight (13%) said they’d lied to a doctor or nurse.  The same number of people (13%) said they’d lied to a parent.

Men were more likely to say they’d drunk less than they actually had, with 17% of men saying they’d lied to a doctor or nurse, compared with 10% of women. 11% of men said they’d lied to their partner, compared with 7% of women. 5% of men said they’d lied to their boss, while 2% of women said they’d done the same. But women were slightly more likely to lie to their children (3% as opposed to 2% of men).

What would make you cut down?

We asked people who drink alcohol whether different scenarios would make them cut down. The scenario which was most likely to make these people cut down was being diagnosed with a heart condition, which 82% of people said would make them cut down. 78% said they’d cut down if their doctor advised them to – though one in ten (10%) said they wouldn’t and a similar number (11%) said they didn’t know.

Two thirds (66%) said they’d cut down if their partner asked them to.

Women were more likely to say they'd cut down on the amount they drink


There were some interesting gender differences. In all the scenarios, women were more likely to say they’d cut down on how much alcohol they drink, with 84% stating they’d cut down on their doctor’s advice compared to 72% of men, and 87% saying they’d cut down if they were diagnosed with a heart condition, compared to 76% of men.

For women, embarrassing themselves in public because of being too drunk could be a strong motivation to cut down on the amount of alcohol they drink, with 77% saying this would cause them to cut down. This was a higher figure compared to the amount of women who said they’d cut down if their child(ren) (75%) or their partner (69%) asked them to. But among men, more said they’d cut down if their partner asked them to (64%) than if their child(ren) asked them to (62%) or if they’d embarrassed themselves in public by getting too drunk (60%).

Dangers of alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol is linked to many health problems, including liver disease, breast cancer, mouth cancer, heart muscle damage, irregular heart rhythms, high blood pressure and even fertility problems.

To test people’s understanding of the dangers of alcohol, we asked them which of these conditions can be linked to too much alcohol. Most people we surveyed realised that drinking too much alcohol is linked to liver disease (87%) and high blood pressure (71%). Just over half (53%) knew it can be linked to fertility problems, but less than half (43%) knew about the link with mouth cancer. Less than two in five people were aware of the link to heart muscle damage and the same amount were aware of the link to irregular heart rhythms (37% for each condition). Just 19% realised that it’s linked to breast cancer.

Worryingly, only 1 in 10 people (10%) were able to correctly identify all of the conditions that can be linked to drinking too much alcohol from the given list.

How often people drink

There was a wide spread of drinking habits in our survey, but people were more likely to be infrequent drinkers than daily drinkers. A quarter of people (25%) said they rarely drink alcohol, and one in seven (14%) said they didn’t drink at all. Fewer than one in 10 (8%) said they usually drink every day, but people were more likely to say they drank one day a week (14%) or two days a week (14%).

Men were more likely to drink frequently than women. 29% of men said they usually drank most days (i.e. four days or more per week), compared with 18% of women. More than twice as many men said they usually drank every day (12% compared with 5% of women). Women were more likely to say they rarely drink (32% compared with 19% of men) or that they never drink alcohol (15% compared with 12% of men).

Those 55 and over were the most likely to say they drank every day


You might imagine that students and other young people are the biggest drinkers, but in fact those 55 and over were the group most likely to say they usually drank every day (12%, compared with 6% of 18-24s and 4% of 25-34s). Among full-time students specifically, one in five (20%) said they never drink alcohol, and more than a quarter (28%) said they rarely drink in an average week. This means that nearly half (48%) of full-time students say they never or rarely drink, compared with 36% of retired people.

Higher social classes (ABC1) were also nearly twice as likely to say that they usually drink every day as lower social classes (C2DE) – 11% compared with 6%. They were also less likely to say that they rarely drink or never drink (23% and 12% respectively, compared to 29% and 16%).

The South region (not including London) was where people were most likely to say that they usually drink every day – 15% compared to in 9% in Wales, 8% in London, 7% in both the Midlands and in the East, 6% in Northern Ireland, 5% in the North and 4% in Scotland.

What different drinks really mean

Half a bottle of wine

Did you know that half a bottle (375ml) of wine (13% alcohol) contains five units? Only one in eight (12 per cent) people in our survey knew this. It’s particularly concerning that 54 per cent underestimated the number of units, meaning they may be drinking more units than they realise. Nearly one in five people (18%) said they didn’t know.

A glass of wine

A standard glass of wine (175ml, 13% alcohol) contains two units of alcohol (when rounded to the nearest unit). In our survey, two out of five people (40%) got this right. More than a quarter (27%) of people thought that it would be just one unit of alcohol, while 14% of people thought it would be three units or more. 17% of people said they didn’t know.

A pint of beer

A pint of beer at 5% alcohol contains three units (rounded to the nearest unit). But in our survey, fewer than one in seven people (14%) knew this. Most (62%) underestimated this number. 44% of people thought it was two units, and 18% of people thought it was one unit, or less than one unit. Another 18% of people said they didn’t know.

Double gin and tonic

When we asked about a double gin and tonic, which contains two units, 35% people got the answer right, although 19% said they didn’t know. Unlike with the other drinks, people were more likely to overestimate the amount of alcohol, with 41% thinking it was three units or more, and just 5% saying it was one unit or less.

Read other results from our alcohol survey

Take our alcohol quiz

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2606 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th - 29th July 2013.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

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