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.

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.

  • Take time off. Try having some alcohol-free days each week.
  • Less is better. Choose a smaller glass or lower strength drink.
  • Swap it. On nights out, make every other drink non-alcoholic.
  • Track it. Making a note of your drinks can help you keep an eye on how much you're drinking. You can even use an online tracker or app.
  • Don't stock up. Only buy alcohol when you plan to drink it.
  • Avoid top-ups. Topping up your drink will make it harder to keep track of how much you’re drinking.
  • Stay out of rounds, and in charge. Drink at your own pace, instead of feeling pressured to keep up with the fastest drinker in the group.
  • Buddy up. Agree to cut down with a friend or family member and help each other stick to the plan.

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

Last reviewed

Rate this page:

Currently rated: 3.6 out of 5 based on 88 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