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3 Reasons Why You Should Care About What “Standard Drink” Means

22 Dezembro 2023

Do you know what a standard drink of alcohol is? A concept created to help you understand the amount of pure alcohol contained in different types and volumes of alcoholic drinks, it can change the way you view your consumption.

The definition of standard drink can affect these 3 spheres of consumption:


  1. the way you “count” how much you drink


  1. the definition of alcohol consumption patterns


  1. research that analyzes how people drink

The way each person counts how much they drink varies greatly and, according to a recent survey, the majority of Brazilians who drink excessively believe they are moderate consumers. The definitions of abusive and moderate consumption are based on a standardized definition of "drink of alcohol", known as “standard drink”, and this also helps many studies to create groups of consumers, according to the amount of drinks they report consuming. Therefore, understanding the concept of a standard drink is essential for understanding almost everything related to alcohol.

One more drink?


Everyone seems to have a vision of what a drink of alcohol would be. Furthermore, these subjective definitions may vary according to the types of drinks consumed. A person may think that 200 mL of beer and 200 mL of wine are equivalent, both a drink, but this is a mistake, as the amount of alcohol present in these two drinks is different. To define a drink of alcohol, it is necessary to create a definition that is independent of the type of drink consumed; in other words, this definition needs to be standardized. It is precisely to deal with these difficulties that the concept of "standard drink" was created.


The Standard Drink of alcohol takes into account the amount of pure alcohol (ethanol) present in each drink. Thus, a 350 mL beer can is equivalent to a 150 mL glass of wine, which is, in turn, equivalent to 40 mL of spirits. Note that the alcohol content of the drink is inversely proportional to the volume, that is, the higher the alcohol content, the smaller the volume needed to compose a standard drink of alcohol.


The definition of a standard drink, however, in terms of the amount of pure alcohol, varies from country to country. Furthermore, many countries, such as Brazil, do not have an established definition of a standard drink of alcohol.




How much is a drink around the world?


The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that the standard drink of alcohol is 10g of pure alcohol, but also recognizes that this definition is – largely – non-existent in most countries, and can vary between those that stipulate a standard drink. In its online panel “Standard Drink Defined”, it is possible to observe that, of the 195 signatory countries, only 48 have an official definition of a standard drink. Of these 48, only 26 have the 10g definition recommended by the WHO. In South America, only Chile (15g) and Paraguay (10g) have official standard drink definitions.

The standard drink is a concept that varies internationally because drinks and consumption habits vary greatly between countries. Generally, the standard drink is designed taking into account the type of drink most consumed, the common size of the bottle and the typical alcohol concentration of that drink. In the case of the USA, for example, the most consumed drink is beer, whose alcohol content is 5%, in 355 ml bottles, which contains 14 g of pure alcohol, which is the national standard drink. Others, such as the United Kingdom, have chosen a smaller unit size (8g) to accommodate smaller dosage sizes without resorting to fractional units (1). The standard drink is then communicated to the public in terms of equivalent and easily understandable quantities of beer, wine, spirits or other types of beverages with different alcohol concentrations.

In Brazil, the most consumed drink, as in the United States, is beer; therefore, to facilitate the calculation for drinkers, CISA adopted the guidelines of the North American NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism), which defines the standard drink as 14g of pure alcohol, or 17.7 mL of pure alcohol.

The standard drink is therefore an important concept for conveying information about alcohol intake to consumers, measuring alcohol intake in research studies, and estimating and communicating the risks of alcohol consumption. Brazil has not yet defined an official standard dose of alcohol, but this should be among the goals of future governments. To stay up to date with these changes, follow our website and follow CISA on our social media!


Additional Info

  • Referências:

    1. Kerr WC, Stockwell T. Understanding standard drinks and drinking guidelines. Drug Alcohol Rev. 2012 Mar;31(2):200-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2011.00374.x. Epub 2011 Nov 3. PMID: 22050262; PMCID: PMC3276704.

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