What is a standard drink?

Want to understand what a standard drink is? The Drinkaware Barometer found that just 1 in 10 Irish adults can correctly identify the three most common drink measures. Getting the facts is a great place to start to understand your drinking habits

Source: McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods (2019)

Understanding standard drinks

  • A standard drink is a measure of alcohol which contains 10 grams of pure alcohol
  • Standard drinks are used as a measure to help people understand how much alcohol is consumed in a given beverage
  • 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 (SD) is based on the size of the drink and its alcohol strength, usually shown on labels as alcohol by volume (%ABV). The higher the strength of the alcohol, the higher the SD content
  • Use the standard drinks calculator to see how the SD content can vary in different drinks
  • It takes your body one hour to process one SD. But this should be taken as a guide for information purposes only. There are many factors that will affect this time including age, gender, weight, alcohol strength, the speed of your metabolism and the number of drinks consumed.


No. This is a really common source of confusion, particularly on labelling or packaging. However, it is important to remember that they are not the same. One UK unit contains 8 grams of pure alcohol, compared to 10 grams in one Irish standard drink.


Pure alcohol refers to the amount of alcohol contained in a beverage. The amount of pure alcohol in a SD depends on the type and amount of alcohol in the beverage.


Alcohol guidelines are typically set by the Department of Health in each country. Some countries (like the UK) use units.

For people in Ireland, the result could be an underestimation or overestimation of  alcohol consumption. This means that you may be drinking more than the low-risk guidelines without realising.

Try to keep this in mind and always follow the guidance for Ireland.


In addition to alcohol produced in Ireland, some products sold here are imported from all over the world. Alcohol labelling 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 is likely to reflect the country where it was packaged, rather than where it is sold.


This measure is important in the context of alcohol-related harm, as drinking too much can have negative health consequences. A SD in Ireland contains 10 grams of pure alcohol, regardless of the type of alcoholic drinks.

For example, a half pint of normal beer, a small glass of wine or a bar measure of spirits all contain one SD. Using this measure, people can easily calculate how many alcohol units they have consumed and make informed decisions about their drinking.

By promoting this concept, Ireland is taking a proactive approach to reducing harm caused by alcohol and promoting responsible drinking habits.


Strength of alcohol (%ABV)

There is a huge variety of drinks available which can greatly vary in alcohol content. For example, some craft beers or spirits can contain more alcohol than some of the more commonly recognised brands.

For wine, 14% alcohol is becoming more widely available. It’s worth taking the time to check the label on the bottle before purchasing.

Size of the measure

Free pouring spirits or wine can lead to drinking more than you intended. Why not order our SD measure? This handy and easy-to-use cup can make it easier to see how much you are really drinking at home.

Size of the glass or bottle

Glasses come in all shapes and sizes, with some able to hold significant – and risky – amounts of alcohol. This is especially true for wine and gin glasses, which are growing in size. One glass does not always mean one SD.


What is a standard drink of wine?

A standard drink of wine is usually around 100ml of 12.5%

What is the measure for a standard drink of spirits?

A standard drink of 37.5% spirits is 35.5ml

Can different types of alcoholic drinks contain different amounts of alcohol in a standard drink?

The number of standard drinks depends on both the % ABV strength and the quantity (in mls) of the product

How many standard drinks are safe to consume in one sitting?

The HSE low-risk weekly guidelines advise that a man has no more that 17 standard drinks and women no more than 11 throughout the week, with at least two alcohol free days. 6 standard drinks or more in one sitting is considered to be binge drinking and makes the likelihood of short and long term risks/harms more likely

How long does it take for the body to process one standard drink?

About 1 hour but this depends on various factors, age, height, weight, metabolism.

What are the health risks associated with drinking too many standard drinks?

Short term harms can include, accident, injury, violence and arguments

Can the number of standard drinks in a drink vary depending on the brand or alcohol content?

Yes the number of standard drinks in a product depends both on the % ABV and the quantity (ml) of the product


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