Is it true that beer is better for you than wine? Time to bust some alcohol myths.

There are lots of false ideas out there about alcohol, but can you spot fact from fiction? Time to find out.

Illustration showing multiple alcohol bottles arranged in three rows

Some alcohol beverages like spirits are ‘hard’ and others like beer are ‘soft’.

False. Spirits contain more alcohol by volume than most wines, which contain more than most beers. But, despite some popular notions, there’s no such thing as ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ alcohol, or, as it’s called in some places, ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ drinks. Beer, wine, distilled spirits and mixed drinks all contain the same type of alcohol called ethanol, which is responsible for the effects you feel regardless of what you’re drinking.

All countries use the same standard ‘unit’ to ensure that servings of beer, wine and spirits are the same.

False. There’s no single standard drink size across the world. While the definition in the UK is eight grams of ethanol (1), different countries use different definitions, and some unit sizes contain as much as 14 grams of ethanol (2). However, within each country, a ‘standard’ serving of beer, wine or spirits is defined in exactly the same way. In practise, drinks are often not served in standard sizes, but the concept of a standard unit is important.

The effect alcohol has on you depends on whether you’re drinking beer, wine or spirits.

False. Beer, wine and spirits all contain the same type of alcohol, ethanol, which has the same effect on your body regardless of what you’re drinking. The important thing is how much ethanol you’re drinking and how quickly. The higher alcohol by volume the drink contains, the smaller the serving (think of spirits compared to beer). However, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t always translate into how drinks are actually served – for example, if you’re drinking at home in glasses that aren’t the standard size.

Units can help you make sure that your drinking stays within recommended guidelines and doesn’t harm you.

True. The UK drinking guidelines offer advice on levels and patterns of drinking using units as a reference (3). The UK Chief Medical Officer’s guideline for both men and women is not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis to minimise any health risks from alcohol. Understanding the concept of a unit can help you relate your own drinking to recommendations that are consistent with a balanced lifestyle. Drinking in excess of recommended guidelines may increase your risk of harm.

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How much do you really know about alcohol?