Whose standard is the standard in a standard drink?

Article published 31 October 2022

Whose standard is the standard in a standard drink?

In Australia, a standard drink refers to 10 grams of alcohol (equivalent to 12.5ml of pure alcohol).  On average, this is how much the human body can process in one hour.

Strangely enough, standard drink sizes vary. While the World Health Organisation uses the 10-grams-of-alcohol definition for a standard drink, the definition differs from country to country.

Iceland and the UK define a standard drink as a cautious 8 grams of alcohol. Australia, Japan and New Zealand say it’s 10 grams, but Germany and Portugal say it’s 11 grams. The Scandinavian countries (except Norway – 12.8 grams) and Switzerland stick with 12 grams. Then come the heavy hitters. Canada, 13.5 grams, USA, 14 grams and then there’s outlier Austria, which sets a standard drink at 20 grams of alcohol.

Don’t assume the average Austrian liver is twice as powerful as the average liver of people living in countries where 10 grams of alcohol is the standard. These different definitions of a standard drink most probably are the result of liquor industry lobbying in different jurisdictions with varying degrees of ‘success’.

The important thing to remember is that a standard drink is an average of what the human liver can process in an hour.

As such, it may be that the standard drink is used more often to estimate how much you can drink without falling foul of drink driving laws rather than to avoid harmful levels of alcohol consumption.

Over time, alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems, cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon and rectum.

Safe levels of alcohol consumption will vary from person to person. The problem is that no one knows or can find out what their safe level is. Hence the rule: there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, even if in Austria.

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