How to cut down on alcohol

3 empty champagne glasses, 1 full glass

The more you cut down on alcohol, the more you could cut your cancer risk. So it's always worth reducing the amount you drink. Aside from cancer, alcohol can also cause accidents and injuries, stroke, high blood pressure, liver disease and pancreatitis. Cutting down could help reduce the risk of these conditions as well.

Also, drinking less can help you avoid hangovers, save money, sleep better and cut out some ‘empty’ calories. So it's always worth reducing the amount you drink in the long term.

Maria cut down on alcohol, and gained new-found confidence. She shared her story with us, telling us what made her cut down, and how she feels now.

CRUK | Healthy lifestyles | Maria Edokpayi

Download transcript [pdf]

What are the government alcohol guidelines?

In the UK the government guidelines are given in units of alcohol. 1 unit of alcohol is the equivalent of 10ml of pure alcohol content.

Both men and women are advised to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. The government guidelines, updated in 2016, stress that even low levels of drinking can increase the risk of some cancers – but that drinking within the limits keeps the health risks low.

Read more about the government guidelines.

What is a unit of alcohol?

A unit is not the same as a drink. Most alcoholic drinks contain more than 1 unit. The number of units in a drink is determined by the size of the drink and how strong (i.e. alcoholic) it is.

In many pubs and bars, drinks are being served in larger glasses or amounts, and drinks, especially wines, beers and ciders, come in a wide range of strengths. The strength of a drink can make more difference than you might expect – a pint of 3.5% beer has around 2 units of alcohol, whereas the same amount of 5% beer has almost 3 units. This means that you might be drinking more alcohol than you think.

To work out the units in your drink and track your drinking, try the NHS Drinks Tracker.

Figure explaining units of alcohol in common drinks

Tips to cut down on alcohol

There are lots of simple ways to cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink. It can help to work out if there are particular times or situations when you tend to have a drink, whether that’s a bad day at work or a weekly pub quiz tradition, and plan what you’ll say and do differently next time.

  • Have more alcohol-free days a week. Try agreeing on certain days with your partner or a friend and help each other to stick to it.
  • If you are planning to drink alcohol, decide on a limit in advance and make sure you don’t go over it.
  • Swap every other alcoholic drink for a soft one – starting with your first drink.
  • Try shandy instead of a pint of beer, or swap some wine for soda and have a spritzer.
  • Don’t stock up on beer, wine or spirits at home.
  • Finish one drink before pouring another, because topping up drinks makes it harder to keep track of how much you’ve had and when you planned to stop.
  • Avoid buying drinks in rounds, that way you don’t have to keep pace with anyone.
  • Tell a friend or partner that you’re cutting down on alcohol, they can support you – or even join you.

Visit Change4Life for more tips to help you cut down on alcohol.

Last reviewed

Rate this page:

Currently rated: 3.6 out of 5 based on 37 votes
Thank you!
We've recently made some changes to the site, tell us what you think

Find a clinical trial

Search our clinical trials database for all cancer trials and studies recruiting in the UK

Cancer Chat forum

Talk to other people affected by cancer

Nurse helpline

0808 800 4040

Questions about cancer? Call freephone or email us

Share this page