Everything you need to know about standard drinks

Everything you need to know about standard drinks

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If you are one of the many people in Ireland thinking about drinking less alcohol (or none at all) in a bid to improve health and wellbeing, you’re not alone. Our consistently rising website visitors make it clear that the appetite for more mindful drinking is growing. A great place to start is by getting the facts on standard drinks and the HSE low-risk weekly alcohol guidelines. We know from the Drinkaware Index 2019 that awareness of both is critically low - just 2% of Irish adults know the guidelines - so there is still a lot of work to do.

What can make this complex information even more difficult to understand is conflicting information on some alcohol labels. Over the past few months, we have had a rise in queries from people who are asking for some clarification on the guidance printed on some labels, especially on the differences between standard drinks and units. This rise in queries is reflective of the shift towards more mindful drinking that we are seeing across Ireland over the past six months. Read on for a rundown of everything you need to know about standard drinks.

What is a standard drink?

  • A standard drink is a measure of alcohol.
  • In Ireland, one standard drink contains 10 grams of pure alcohol.
  • Common examples include a half pint of 4.5% lager, 100ml glass of 12.5% wine and pub measure of 40% spirits.
  • The number of standard drinks is based on the size of the drink and its alcohol strength, usually shown on labels as alcohol by volume (%ABV). The higher the alcohol strength, the higher the standard drink content.
  • On average, it takes one hour to process one standard drink. However, this should be taken as a guide for information purposes only as there are many factors that will affect this time.

Try our Drinks Calculator to find out more

Is a standard drink the same as a unit?

  • No. This is a common source of confusion, particularly on labelling, but they are not the same.
  • One UK unit contains 8 grams of pure alcohol, compared to 10 grams in one Irish standard drink.

Why does this matter?

Alcohol guidelines are typically set by the Department of Health in each country. If you see unit content displayed on a can or bottle label, this will show the alcohol content in a UK unit, not an Irish standard drink. The result for people in Ireland will be an underestimation of how much alcohol was consumed. We recommend to always follow the guidance for Ireland.

Why does this happen?

In addition to alcohol produced in Ireland, some products sold here will be imported from all over the world. The labelling of alcohol packaging can take place in countries outside of Ireland. Each country will have different labelling requirements and alcohol guidelines. This means that the information on the label will usually reflect the country where it was packaged.

The HSE low-risk weekly guidelines

With all this said, knowing the guidelines can help you to understand your drinking habits over the course of the week. Remember, these are guidelines - not a target.

  • Women: up to 11 standard drinks (110g pure alcohol) spread out over the week, with at least two alcohol-free days
  • Men: up to 17 standard drinks (170g pure alcohol) spread out over the week, with at least two alcohol-free days

What is binge drinking?

Binge drinking is consuming six or more standard drinks in one sitting. This is the equivalent of three pints of cider (568ml), six bottles of lager (330ml) or four glasses of prosecco (150ml). Regular binge drinking can increase risks to your health and wellbeing.

Get the facts on your drinking habits

  • Try our quick online Drinks Calculator to find out the standard drink, calorie and sugar content of a range of different drinks and if you are drinking above or below the weekly guidelines.
  • Order a free Get the Facts pack for tools you can use at home. The pack contains our standard drink measure cup, drinks, calorie and sugar calculator and Alcohol and You booklet.