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How standard drinks differ around the world

4 min read
15 Jun 2016

We all know when you go out for a drink with your mates, it’s easy to lose track of how much you’re actually drinking. We’ve all been there when  a couple of beers quickly turn into a few more.  And that delicious red poured into a large wine glass? We know it’s likely to be more than one standard drink…but we can’t help ourselves!

So, what exactly is a standard drink? Well, this is Australia, so you can always look at the side of the bottle to double check! To get a little more technical, a standard drink contains 10 grams or 12.5ml of pure alcohol. This means that you’re mileage will vary depending on your liquor of choice.

Using the Department of Health’s definition of a standard drink, and information from Dan Murphys, we’ve broken down how a standard drink may look to the regular punter.

Type of alcoholServed inStandard drinks per unitDrink of choice
Low-strength beerCan (375mL)0.8 standard drink (2.7% alcohol)Cascade Premium Light
Mid-strength beerCan (375mL)1 standard drink (3.5% alcohol)XXXX Gold
Full-strength beerCan (375mL)1.4 standard drinks (4.8% alcohol)Tooheys Extra Dry
WineGlass (100mL)1 standard drink (13.5% alcohol)Small glass of Pinot Gris
Wine (avg. restaurant serve)Glass (150mL)1.5 standard drinks (13.5% alcohol)Large glass of Shiraz
Spirits (1 nip)Shot glass (30mL)1 standard drink (40% alcohol)Johnny Walker Red
Premixed spiritsCan (330mL)1.2 – 1.7 standard drinks (5% alcohol)U.P. Bundaberg Rum & Cola
Premixed, higher proof spiritsCan (330mL)1.6 – 2.4 standard drinks (7% alcohol)O.P. Bundaberg Rum & Cola
Drinks information sourced from Dan Murphy’s website on 06/06/2016.

How much alcohol can you drink without hitting the unhealthy range?

As much as we love a drink, it’s well known that no amount of alcohol is considered 100% safe.  In Australia, no more than two standard drinks per day is recommended for men and women to reduce the risk of disease or injury. Taking into account the amount of alcohol in some of the popular drinks outlined above, it doesn’t take long before you’re over your limit.  Think back to your last big social outing; how many drinks did you really have?

Drinking to excess can have many short and long term effects on your body. These range from slurred speech, nausea and impaired judgment, to liver disease and cancer. The speed and severity of these health risks are determined by many factors such as age, gender, weight, mental health, drug use and existing medical conditions.

How does Australia stack up to the rest of the world?

Believe it or not, many countries around the world don’t have standardised drink measurements at all.  Those that do, vary considerably from one place to the next. Australia’s standard is in line with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition of 10g of pure alcohol, but other countries have their own standards.

Alcohol allowance per country

Most countries also have differing recommendations for weekly alcohol consumption.  Over the course of seven days, France suggests that a whopping 210g of alcohol is a safe level for men, while Australia recommends just 140g.  Some countries, like Poland, recommend different amounts for men and women – the ladies are only allowed 50g per week!

Some of the recommendations are wildly different. Canadian men are allowed 69% more alcohol per week than Australians. Women in New Zealand are supposed to drink a third less than their male compatriots, whereas Aussie men and women are allowed to match each other drink for drink throughout the week.

If you’re trying to scope out which country is more liberal with its recommendations, have a look at the rest of the 37-country study published in Addiction magazine. It just goes to show there is no global standard for what a standard drink or a safe level of alcohol consumption should be.

How can you have a good night out and minimise the risks?

Okay, so while some countries are more generous towards their alcohol standards, it’s universally agreed that excessive alcohol consumption is bad for your health. While there is a risk no matter how much alcohol you consume, there are ways to reduce the short and long term health implications.

  • Have at least two alcohol free days per week.
  • When drinking, set limits before you start and stick to them.
  • It’s not a race, drink slowly.
  • Alternate your drinks, one alcoholic drink followed by a non-alcoholic drink (preferably water, to keep yourself hydrated).
  • Ensure you’ve eaten a nutritious meal before you drink.
  • Add water or ice to dilute your drink.
  • Drink mid-strength or low-strength alcoholic beverages instead.
  • Snacking on salty foods such as nuts and chips will increase your desire to drink.
  • Avoid sugary pre-mixed drinks, and alcohol mixed with energy drinks.

Drinking alcohol is part of the ‘Australian experience’, and socialising with family and friends over a couple of drinks is an enjoyable pastime for most.  The key is to make an informed decision about how much you’re actually drinking so you still can have a good time – free of risk.

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Written by Alex Rappel

Alex is quick to make a bad joke at the wrong time. He's got an unhealthy obsession with the hit TV series 'Friends' and is absolutely incorrigible when it comes to writing. Above all else, Alex loves helping people. In fact, one of the best ways he does this is by telling stories to explain complex ideas.

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