Most people understand how much alcohol they can consume before reaching the legal limits for driving. But when it comes to how much alcohol is safe to drink before it becomes a problem on health and wellbeing, it becomes confusing.
A new study has found that the varying guidelines around “low-risk alcohol consumption” and standard drink measures in different countries can cause misunderstanding of what’s safe.
Only 37 out of the 75 nations included in the study had any drinking guidelines in place at all.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines a “standard drink” as one that contains 10g of alcohol (12.5mL of pure alcohol). Australia and New Zealand observe the same guideline.
However, a recent US study found that the amount of alcohol in a “standard drink” differs between countries. Only 37 out of the 75 nations included in the study had any drinking guidelines in place, and those that did had different ideas about what constitutes a standard drink.
In the UK and Iceland, a standard drink contains 8g of alcohol, which is 20 per cent less than the WHO recommended amount. Austria, in contrast, defines a standard drink as one that contains 20g of alcohol, twice the amount set out by WHO.
Researchers also found the amount considered to be “low-risk” drinking also varies depending on where you are in the world, with some countries issuing different recommendations for men and women.
In Sweden, women are advised not to exceed 10g of alcohol (less than a glass of wine) a day. Meanwhile, men in America and Chile can drink up to 56g of alcohol and still be considered low-risk.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines a “standard drink” as one that contains 10g of alcohol (12.5mL of pure alcohol).
Countries such as Australia and South Africa don’t differentiate between men and women when it comes to drinking guidelines. The Australian Drug Foundation says, “Healthy men and women should drink no more than four standard drinks on any one occasion.”
These wide variations in standard drink amounts and governmental guidelines on low-risk drinking can cause confusion. “There’s a substantial chance for misunderstanding,” says Professor Keith Humphreys, a psychiatrist from Stanford University in the US and lead researcher in the study.
“A study of the health effects of low-risk drinking in France could be misinterpreted by researchers in the United States who may use a different definition of drinking levels. Inconsistent guidelines are also likely to increase scepticism among the public about their accuracy. It is not possible that every country is correct; maybe they are all wrong.”