How much is too much drinking?

You should not take more than five and a half bottles of beer a week

In Summary

• Drinkers measure their intake in glasses or bottles, oblivious to the 14-unit limit


The recommended maximum consumption of alcohol is 14 units a week, but most people find it difficult to tell exactly what a unit of alcohol means.

A quick online search creates more confusion because alcohol units are described in terms of ounces, pints and tots. Those measuring units do not make sense to Kenyans because we are a metric-based society that uses millilitres, litres and kilogrammes.

Ask any person who drinks alcohol how much they take, they'll give you an answer in numbers of glasses or bottles. That's how most people measure their alcohol consumption. Some drinkers boast of gulping down an entire crate of beer at one sitting. That's 25 bottles of beer.

The UK’s National Health Service describes a much easier way of interpreting units of alcohol. Calculate the units of alcohol in any drink by multiplying the volume of the drink (in ml) by its alcohol content as indicated on the bottle’s label and dividing the result by 1,000.

Take, for example, a 500ml bottle of beer whose alcohol by volume (ABV) printed on the label is 5 per cent. The units of alcohol in that bottle of beer would be:

(500ml x 5) divided by 1,000

2,500 divided by 1,000 = 2.5 units of alcohol

For an adult, the maximum recommended consumption of alcohol is 14 units per week. How many 500ml bottles of beer containing 5 per cent ABV should you take to stay below the recommended maximum?

The answer would be the 14 units divided by 2.5 units in each bottle. That gives a result of 5.6 bottles. If you are a fan of such beers, your consumption should not exceed five and a half bottles a week. In reality, many people take more than five bottles of beer in a single sitting; there might be several drinking sessions a week. This means that a large number of alcohol consumers in Kenya are already exceeding the recommended weekly limit.

Using the same formula, it is easy to find out how many units of alcohol are contained in various types of drinks.

Chart showing alcohol consumption
Chart showing alcohol consumption

Based on these calculations, two people equally sharing a 250ml bottle of vodka would each be consuming 5 units of alcohol in one sitting. If they order another and also share it equally, each of the two persons would hit 10 units of alcohol.

It is recommended that the 14 maximum units of alcohol a week be spread out over several days instead of consuming all of them in a single session. Regularly consuming more alcohol than the recommended maximum could lead to health complications, such as liver disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and problems with the digestive system.

Edited by T Jalio

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