Alcohol, drugs and substance abuse


Many of us enjoy an alcoholic drink as part of our social life, or as a way to relax.

Drinking within certain limits is fine, but it can be easy for us to lose track of how much we are drinking and to slip into the habit of drinking too much on a regular basis.

There is no guaranteed safe level of drinking, and the effects of alcohol on your health will depend on how much you drink.

The more you drink, the greater the health risks.

Sensible drinking guidelines

Official guidelines recommend that men shouldn’t regularly drink more than 3 to 4 units a day and women shouldn’t regularly drink more than 2 to 3 units a day because of the harm this may cause.

Guidelines also state that you should have at least 2 alcohol-free days each week, and recommend that after an episode of heavy drinking, it’s advisable to refrain from drinking for 48 hours to allow the tissues in your body to recover.

What is a unit of alcohol?

1 alcohol unit is measured as 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol. The number of units in a drink is determined by the size and strength of the drink.

Unfortunately, it's not as simple as one drink, one unit, and the alcoholic content in the same types of drinks can vary a lot.

FInd out more about alcohol units on NHS.UK.

Check how many units you are drinking using the Alcohol Change unit calculator.

Am I drinking too much?

Most people will be fine if they drink within the sensible limits for regular drinking, but for some people, drinking gradually gets out of control.

Psychological and physical dependence on alcohol can creep up on you, especially if you drink excessively on a regular basis.

Tolerance can gradually increase, meaning that you need more alcohol to reach the same state. In other words, if you feel that you are getting better at holding your drink that could be a sign of a developing problem.

Take the Alcohol & Drug Service alcohol questionnaire to understand if you are drinking too much.

And visit the NHS drink less page for tips and tools to help you change your drinking habits.


Most recreational drugs are illegal in the UK, including drugs such as:

  • heroin
  • cocaine
  • cannabis
  • ecstasy.

However, there are other drugs such as prescription medications that can also be abused such as:

  • painkillers
  • sleeping tablets
  • medicines for the treatment of anxiety and depression.

It is important that you are aware of the impact recreational or prescription drugs may have on your body, including long-term damage to your health.

One of the most common features of regular drug taking is addiction. When your body gets so used to having the drug in its system, it starts to rely on that substance to function. This can cause a lot of long-term health issues which can be the cause of illness and even death.

Apps that can help you

Download the Drink Free Days app to get reminders and practical advice to change your drinking habits for good.

Drinks Meter and Drugs Meter are apps which lets you compare your drinking or drug taking to other people and gives you unbiased, anonymous, personalised feedback on your drinking or drug use.

Download the:

National support organisations

The NHS website provides lots of information on seeking help and advice about alcohol or drug use.

NHS - Alcohol misuse

NHS - Drug addiction: getting help

Drinkaware is a national independent charity whose website has lots of useful information and tips on reducing alcohol consumption and drinking sensibly.

Talk to Frank offers free, friendly practical confidential advice around drugs. Their website has an A to Z of different types of drugs and the effects they can have on a person. You can find out about support near you as well as read current news stories and learn about people’s experiences.

Local support with alcohol or drug problems 

If you are worried about how much you are drinking, or about your drug use, or if you think that you have experienced an injury or illness as a result of alcohol or drug use, then the best place to first seek help may be your doctor.

Your doctor can discuss your concerns with you, assess the nature of your problems, and help you choose the most appropriate treatment or service. 

The organisations below provide advice and support for people who may have a problem with alcohol or drug use. 

The Drug and Alcohol Wellbeing Service run by Turning Point offers advice and support for substance misuse issues for anyone aged 18 or older.

You can contact them on 0330 303 8080 or by email at

The Alcohol service run by Change Grow Live offers advice and support for those with issues around alcohol misuse for anyone aged 18 or older.

Doctors, family members, carers and friends, or any other agency, such as social services, can refer someone into the service.

You can contact them on freephone 0800 014 7440 or by email at:

Peer-led services 

There are organisations that work with residents who are in recovery or working towards recovery alongside specialist treatment services. These are led and run by peers and are often run in evenings and at weekends. 

BOB (Build on Belief) does not offer therapeutic services, but instead provides a range of socially based services intended to support people through their treatment journey while they work to move forward with their lives.

Outside Edge theatre group is for people who are in early recovery from substance use who have very little or no experience of drama but are interested in taking part. Visit the website for more information or call them on 020 7371 8020.

Translate this website