Alcohol is linked to many positive life events and is sometimes used as a key part of socialising, relaxing and celebrating. When used within the recommended daily limits, alcohol use can be low risk and enjoyable. However, it is important to be aware that drinking more than recommended guidelines can be very harmful to your health and wellbeing.

So, what are the guidelines?

  • It is safest for both men and women not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.

  • If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it's best to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days. Saving up your units to have one or two heavy drinking episodes a week is binge drinking and increases your risk of long-term illness and injury

  • The risk of developing a range of health problems including heart disease, cancer, strokes or pneumonia

  • Having several drink-free days per week is a healthy strategy to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink. There are some useful apps that can help you stay in control of how much you are drinking and ensure you are staying within the guidelines: Drink Free Days Tracker.

What does 14 units look like?

NHS Scotland launched this tool in 2019 to help people accurately measure their 14 units per week.

A healthy relationship with alcohol will look different to each person, it may include the use of tools and strategies to monitor how much we drink, engaging in alternative activities or abstaining completely. In order to maintain healthy habits, it is important to have an awareness of the factors that may increase the likelihood of us drinking to excess and minimise the risk wherever possible. For example, finding alternative ways to reduce stress.

Alcohol and Stress

Using alcohol to cope with stress is common. However, alcohol interferes with the brains function, can cause low moods and worsen sleep quality which is likely to increase stress in the long term. The Healthy Shetland section on Mental Health has some great tips on alternative ways to beat stress and improve your mental wellbeing.

Alcohol dependency

If you find it difficult to enjoy yourself or relax without having a drink, it’s possible you’ve become dependent on alcohol.  Some other signs of alcohol dependency include:

  • Worrying about where your next drink is coming from and planning social, family and work events around alcohol

  • Finding you have a compulsive need to drink and it is hard to stop once you start

  • Waking up and drinking – or feeling the need to have a drink in the morning

  • Feelings of anxiety, alcohol-related depression and suicidal feelings – these can develop because regular, heavy drinking interferes with neurotransmitters in our brains that are needed for good mental health

  • Suffering from physical withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shaking and nausea, which stop once you drink alcohol.

People who drink heavily often develop a tolerance to alcohol and keep increasing the amount they drink in response. This can reduce someone’s ability to drink in a controlled way.

Alcohol related problems can be complex and you don’t always have to be drinking to extreme levels to become dependent on alcohol. It is important to maintain an awareness of this. The following video offers an interesting perspective. (Please note that the guidelines in this video are different to what is recommended in the UK . The Chief Medical Officer advises 14 units per week over 3 days or more)

If you are worried about your alcohol consumption

If you’re worried you might be becoming dependent on alcohol consider looking at how easy it is for you to go a few days without drinking.

Important: Get medical advice before you stop drinking if you have physical withdrawal symptoms e.g. shaking, sweating, nausea before you have your first drink of the day. It can be dangerous to stop drinking too quickly without medical supervision if you experience symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

You can talk to your GP who can refer you to local alcohol services, or contact one of the following organisations:

Support Services

  • Drinkline, a free, confidential helpline for people who are concerned about their drinking, or someone else's. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am–8pm, weekends 11am–4pm)
  • Alcoholics Anonymous, whose helpline is open 24/7 on 0800 9177 650. If you would prefer, you can also email them at or live chat via their website at
  • Al-Anon which offers support and understanding to the families and friends of dependent drinkers. You can call their confidential helpline on 020 7403 0888 (open 10am-10pm). There are lots more resources for families and friends here.
  • Locally, you can contact the Substance Misuse Recovery Service which is based in Lerwick Health Centre, Mental Health Department. Call on 01595 743006 (weekdays 9am-5pm).
  • If you are worried about someone else, Drink aware provides some great advice on how to raise the topic of harmful alcohol consumption with someone you care about.

Shetland Alcohol and Drug Partnership

The Shetland Alcohol and Drug Partnership is a multi-agency group that work alongside the Scottish Government to reduce the harm caused by alcohol and drugs in Shetland.  

If you are looking for services that are available locally, information or resources about alcohol and drugs or would like to contact the partnership for any other reason, you can contact:

Wendy McConnachie, Alcohol and Drugs Development Officer:

Carol Scott, Assistant to the Alcohol and Drug Partnership:

Alternatively, like or message our Facebook page @ShetlandADP for updates, training opportunities and more.