The Definition of a "Standard Drink" Varies From Country to Country


We know drinking culture varies from country to country, but a new study in the journal Addiction shows that it’s not just about traditions or booze preferences, it’s also about the simple definition of a drink itself.

More specifically, the question of what makes up “one drink.” As reported by Gizmodo, researchers Agnieszka Kalinowski and Keith Humphrey studied drinking guidelines in 75 countries to determine how much alcohol makes up a single drink. Some countries had government guidelines, while others were obtained by emailing a country’s health ministry or simply searching the Internet. 

Screen shot // Wiley Online Library

As you can see, there’s a lot to pick apart in these numbers. Some countries are very specific about what makes a drink (in Luxembourg it's 12.8 grams) and others leave things sort of vague (Portugal says 10-12 grams). While the World Health Organization has defined a standard drink as 10 grams of pure ethanol, country guidelines vary greatly throughout the world. As the authors of the study write: “At the extremes, the size of a standard drink varies by 250% (from a low of 8 g to a high of 20 g).” As Inverse points out, the UK defines it as eight grams, but that’s only half a pint of beer and we can be pretty sure people aren’t counting a pint as two drinks. Which brings us to the next point of focus in the study: low-risk consumption guidelines, or how much drinking is considered advisable in a day or week.

The authors write: “In reviewing the results there is a striking discrepancy in guidelines for low-risk consumption, ranging from 10 g per day (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, India, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden) to 56 g per day (Chile). It is also notable that countries disagree as to whether low-risk drinking has the same definition for men and women."

Some countries even allow for a higher drink limit for so-called “special occasions,” which is all to say, there’s inconsistencies across the board when it comes to what's considered “standard” drinking practice around the world. In some ways, that makes sense—and after all, this doesn’t even take into account the variations that occur out at the bar—but the authors of the study note that government guidelines on drinking might be an important matter of public health.

“We hope our compilation inspires more evaluation of whether such guidelines benefit public health and, if so, what strategies would increase the number of nations that develop and disseminate them,” they write.

[h/t Gizmodo]