Unit of alcohol

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In the United Kingdom, units of alcohol are used as a guideline for the consumption of alcoholic beverages. A unit of alcohol is defined as 10 millilitres of pure alcohol (ethanol) — it is not the same thing as a standard drink. The size of standard drinks varies significantly from country to country.

A unit of alcohol is, more or less, the amount of alcohol that an average healthy adult can metabolize in one hour. In the United Kingdom, the number of units contained in a typical serving of an alcoholic beverage is publicised and printed on bottles.

In Australia, a unit of alcohol is defined as 12.7 millilitres, which is one Australian standard drink.[1]



The number of units of alcohol in a drink can be determined by multiplying the volume of the drink (in millilitres) by its percentage ABV, and dividing by 1000. Thus, one pint (568 ml) of beer at 4% ABV contains:

\frac{568 \times 4}{1000} = 2.3\mbox{ units}

The formula uses the quantity in millilitres divided by 1000; this has the result of there being exactly one unit per percentage point per litre of any alcoholic beverage.

When the volume of an alcoholic drinks is shown in centilitres, determining the number of units in a drink is as simple as multiplying volume by percentage (converted into a fraction of 1). Thus 75 centilitres of wine (the contents of a standard wine bottle) at 13 % ABV contain:

75 \times 0.13 = 9.75\mbox{ units}


It is often stated that a unit of alcohol is supplied by a small glass of wine, half a pint of beer, or a single measure of spirits.[2] Such statements may be misleading because they do not reflect differences in strength of the various kinds of wines, beers, and spirits.


  • A half pint (284 ml) of beer that has a strength of 3.5% abv contains almost exactly one unit. However, most beers are stronger. In pubs, beers generally range from 4% to 5.5% abv with continental lagers starting at around 5% abv. A pint of such lager (568 ml at 5.2% for example) is almost 3 units of alcohol, rather than the often-quoted value of 2 units per pint.
  • A 500 ml can/bottle of standard lager (5%) contains 2.5 units.
  • 'Super-strength' or strong pale lager may contain as much as two units per half pint.
  • One litre of typical Oktoberfest beer (5.5% to 6%) contains 5.5 to 6 units of alcohol.

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