R Rajendram R Hunter and V Preedy Kings College London London UK T Peters Kings College Hospital London UK

© 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

After caffeine, ethanol is the most commonly used recreational drug worldwide. 'Alcohol' is synonymous with 'ethanol,' and 'drinking' often describes the consumption of beverages containing ethanol.

In the United Kingdom, a unit of alcohol (standard alcoholic drink; Table 1) contains 8g of etha-nol. The Department of Health (United Kingdom) and several of the medical Royal Colleges have recommended sensible limits for alcohol intake based on units of alcohol. However, because the amount of ethanol in one unit varies throughout the world (Tables 2 and 3), the unit system does not allow international comparisons.

Despite these guidelines, the quantity of alcohol consumed varies widely. Many enjoy the pleasant psychopharmacological effects of alcohol. However,

Table 1 Unit system of ethanol content of alcoholic beveragesa

Beverage containing ethanol

Units of ethanol

Half pint of low-strength beer (284 ml)

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