UK Government

Department of Health: English drinkers knock back double shots at home

Press Release   •   Jan 04, 2010 11:13 GMT

Average drinker thinks a unit of wine is twice what it actually is.

People drinking spirits at home in England are giving themselves more than double (128% extra) what they would get in a pub if they ordered a single shot according to new figures revealed today by the Know Your Limits campaign.

A series of experiments across England found that the average ‘home barman’ pours themselves 57ml when they drink a spirit such as vodka, gin or whisky – 32ml more than a standard single 25ml measure.

If that average English drinker knocked back eight spirits drinks over a week at home, they would be drinking nearly half a litre (456ml) of vodka, gin or whisky, compared to 200ml if they’d ordered the same number of single measures in a pub or bar.

These extra sips equate to 17 units instead of 7.5 units over a week – which can make all the difference for people who might wrongly think they are drinking within the NHS recommended limits of 2-3 units a day for women and 3-4 units a day for men.

Minister for Public Health, Gillian Merron, said:

“Many of us enjoy a drink, especially at New Year.

“But it’s easy to get carried away and it’s worrying to see just how much more people might be unwittingly pouring for themselves and their friends at home on a regular basis.

“Over time, such over-generosity may backfire and harm your health. If you want to minimise your risk of diseases like cancer, heart disease and stroke, it’s worth paying attention to the size of your measures.

“New Year is a good time to re-think how much you drink.”

Other experiment findings

When asked to pour how much they estimated a single 25ml shot to be, the average amount poured was 38ml – over 50% more, with the highest amount measuring in at a staggering 182ml.

People aged 31 to 50 were the most ‘generous’, pouring an average of 41ml, whilst men poured considerably more than women, 43ml compared to 32ml.

Women were shown to be the most ‘lavish’ pourers of wine. The Know Your Limits experiments suggested the average amount of wine poured at home is 186ml, equivalent to 2.4 units of 13% ABV wine; that’s the recommended daily limit for women in just one glass.

The experiments also suggested that the size of your wine glass really does matter. When asked to pour the equivalent of one unit into a large wine glass (250ml), the average amount poured was 157ml, compared to the correct amount at 13% ABV of 76.25ml. In a smaller wine glass (175ml), it was 131ml, which is still 55ml over the correct amount at 13% ABV.

Worryingly over New Year, these ‘home barmen’ are likely to have even more opportunity to fill their glasses, as almost two thirds of home spirit drinkers (61%) never or rarely use a drinks measure at home.

GP and broadcaster, Dr Carol Cooper, said:

“These experiments suggest too many people don’t actually know how much they are drinking, which is worrying as alcohol affects every organ of the body.

“People who regularly drink more than the NHS recommended limits increase their risk of serious illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, liver disease and many types of cancers.”

Advice for cutting down

Ten million adults in England regularly exceed the recommended daily limits and put their health at risk. The NHS recommends men don’t regularly drink more than three to four units a day (about two pints of beer). For women, the NHS recommendations are for no more than two to three units a day (about two small glasses of wine).

The Know Your Limits campaign has compiled some top tips for those wishing to reduce their alcohol intake as part of their New Year’s Resolutions:

·        Measure it: for the easiest way to keep track of how much you’re drinking, use a measure at home when you’re pouring drinks for you or your guests.
·        Dilute it: give yourself a longer drink by adding water, sparkling water or a soft drink to your spirits.
·        Reduce it: if you’re drinking wine, simply choose the smaller glass and fill it up slightly less. You’ll hardly notice but it all adds up.
·        Try it: be brave and try lower alcohol alternatives. There are many more, high quality low- or no-alcohol beers and wines available now so give it a try.
·        Alternate it: slow down your speed of drinking by having a non-alcoholic drink, such as water or orange juice, in between alcoholic drinks.
·        Remove it: to really kick-start your New Year’s Resolutions, don’t keep alcoholic drinks in your home at all for January and see the impact on your life.
·        Save it: as an added incentive, put the money you’d normally spend on alcohol for the home in a piggy-bank and see how much you’ve saved by the end of the month.
·        Log it: keeping track of your alcohol intake can be a real eye-opener. Fill in a drink diary on or download the new Drinks Tracker from NHS Choices at
·  Just do it: many of us know we’d ideally want to cut down how much we drink, so start today and take it one day at a time.

Notes to editors

1.      For media enquiries only, please contact the Department of Health newsdesk on 020 7210 5221.

2.      Spokespeople, including Dr Carol Cooper, are available for interview.

3.      Know Your Limits is a joint Department of Health and Home Office initiative, launched in October 2006. The campaign encourages people to drink responsibly and to recognise what their limits are when it comes to alcohol. For more information, visit

4.      The NHS has launched an official NHS Drinks Tracker to help people in England quickly calculate units, keep on top of their drinking and get personalised feedback. The iPhone application is available on

5.      All experiment data was gathered during three hall tests of 200 people in London, North Shields and Liverpool from 1 to 3 December 2009. Research agency, Conquest, carried out independent hall tests, in which members of the public (adults between 18 and 65 who regularly drink alcohol at home) were asked to pour what spirit measures they would usually pour at home – with and without ice cubes – and what wine measure they would pour at home. They were also asked to pour how much they thought a single 25ml shot of spirit and one unit of wine is (into a standard 175ml and large 250ml wine glass). The amounts poured were then compared and the differences noted and compiled together.

6.      Calculations are based on a spirit being 37.5% alcohol by volume (ABV).

7.      The consumer opinion figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov PLC. Total sample size was 2,421 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16 and 18 November 2009. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all English adults (aged 18+).

8.      To remain at ‘lower risk’ of harming your health, the NHS advises women do not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day, and men do not regularly drink more than 3-4 units a day. ‘Regularly’ means drinking every day or most days of the week. Higher risk drinkers are men consuming over 8 units a day, or 50 units a week, and women consuming over 6 units a day, or 35 units a week.


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