I drink too much, apparently – do you?

Posted by on Apr 25, 2013 in Editorial | 3 Comments


I may be in the minority of British alcohol-users, in that I can reel off the recommended drinking levels for adults in the UK; no more than 21 units/wk for men, 14 units/wk for women. The recommendation also follows that there should be at least two ‘alcohol free’ days in each seven (apparently, consecutive mornings don’t count – only complete days do). Knowing all this, as I have done for a while, I started wondering recently how much I actually do drink. Having written about beer for over six years, I’ve certainly had a decent amount over that time – but having a fairly rigid, in-built, self-awareness meter I rarely get in too much trouble due to drink (I’m looking at you, Magic Rock tap takeover).

Still, as the people who came up with the (however arbitrary) units concept would like, I am curious as to how it all adds up. The way I drink – strong beer in small batches, a couple of big IPA’s here and there rather than eight pints on a Friday – certainly doesn’t put me in the ‘problem drinker’ category so beloved of red-pen wielding politicians. However, neither does it put me in the clear. Even if you don’t binge, those imperial stouts can creep up on you. Having said that, I would never honestly say to (for example) a practicing physician that I exceed the 21 units per week. In truth, I didn’t know.

So, I downloaded AlcoDroid – and rigidly tracked what I drank for a month.

This isn’t a blogvert for that app, by the way – there are plenty of alcohol tracking apps and websites out there. Full disclosure – I went for that one because it was free and it had a robot on it (take note, marketeers). For the next four weeks, everything I drank went in there, abv calculated, price logged, the works. Even wine (yes, I know). I actually quite enjoyed the process – like Beer Advocate or RateBeer, only it actually matters. There were plenty of surprises along the way (not least the one at the end – but more about that in a moment), such as Odell’s spellbinding double IPA Myrcenary containing a whopping 3.27 units.

My maximum daily consumption over that time was 13.57 units – on a BeerCaster Friday night out at the newly-opened Jake’s Place. Surprisingly. I felt pretty chipper the next day (must have been the falafel wrap on the way home). Out of the whole month, I spent 33% of the time alcohol free (in terms of whole days), so at least I’m leaving some time for the body to recover in between the ruinous sessions. Speaking of which – here are the totals:-

Week one, 22.91 units
Week two, 23.91 units
Week three, 26.56 units
Week four, 25.77 units

Not a single one under the 21 unit recommended level. So, does this make me a problem drinker?

Well, no, of course not. I drink in moderation – I truly believe that – and spent a hearty amount for the privilege; £7.34 per ‘drinking day’ (I guess that’s the price of craft, right there). There’s no descent into daytime boozing on the cards, or a move towards the cheaper and stronger alcohols. Most of what I drink is because it’s something new, or something to write about, dear readers. Over the last month, I haven’t stuck to the recommended daily intake at all. But then, that’s exactly what they are – a series of recommendations.

However, it has made me think a bit more about what I do drink. As I move towards the end of each drinking week (in terms of the app, that’s not a concept I have coined), seeing that I was approaching the 21 units made me think that I should step back a little, rather than have another. In that regard, this exercise has proved two things to me – firstly, that this self-control does indicate I have some degree of responsibility. Secondly, logging exactly what I drink has apparently proved that I consume more than I had realised. Food, or rather drink, for thought.


  1. Blair
    April 25, 2013

    Good post Rich. I enjoyed it, and am looking for an app for myself. a couple points of contention, however:
    1) you really underplayed your comments on the arbitrary nature of suggested consumption units,
    2) why do you have an android?

  2. Richard
    April 26, 2013

    Fair comment Blair – the entire concept of units (like eating ‘5 a day’) is no more than a recommendation – over time the levels have dropped, to the current 21/14. I could have banged on at length about how arbitrary it is, but as I covered at the end that even though I’m above those levels, it’s not going to unduly worry me, I figured I would concentrate on that angle instead.

    Is there a similar system over there?

  3. Blair
    April 26, 2013

    Funny, i hadn’t thought about our guidelines. I wasn’t nearly the regular drinker until i moved to Scotland, so i wasn’t really aware of this prior to the move. And the arbitrariness of the guidelines over there caused me to kind of ignore the issue. So i never thought about it until you just asked. our guidelines are quite similar to yours. Men up to two drinks a day and women up to one drink a day, but with no weekly guideline and the suggestion that this intake should not be continual.

    The difference is in the way Scots think about units. It’s just beer, wine, and spirit sizes with no attention to abv. that said, the difference is also the binge drinking “problem” in Scotland might mean there is more of a need to market these guidelines more aggressively and concretely.

    Looking through this site will show the arbitrariness (and vagueness) of our guidelines.


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