Recommended Alcohol Limits

Drinking alcohol in moderation isn’t likely to be harmful; in fact, many studies suggest it may even be beneficial. But the more you drink, the greater your risk of serious health problems and alcohol abuse.

According to Government guidelines, women should drink no more than two to three units of alcohol a day, and should aim to have at least one alcohol-free day each week. This is designed to highlight the need for moderation and prevent the binge-drinking ( alcohol abuse ) that is so harmful to the liver.

These limits are lower than those for men, because women’s bodies metabolise alcohol differently. This means alcohol remains in the body for longer and therefore has greater potential for damage.

The Risks

The risks associated with drinking more than the recommended alcohol amount include:

  • liver damage (eg, cirrhosis)
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • throat cancer
  • kidney damage

It’s also worth noting that while alcohol doesn’t contain fat, it is high in calories. A glass of dry white wine, for example, can contain more than 100 calories.

During Pregnancy

Alcohol drunk during pregnancy can cross the placenta and reach the foetus, although it’s not clear exactly how much is harmful. For this reason, some experts recommend that you avoid alcohol altogether while pregnant; others say that one or two units once or twice a week, up to four units a week, shouldn’t cause any harm.

If needed anybody with a alcohol abuse problem should get treatment as soon as possible.


This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Trisha Macnair in August 2005.
First published in November 1997.