What is a standard drink?

The Drinkaware Barometer found that just 1 in 10 Irish adults can correctly identify the three most common standard drink measures. Getting the facts about standard drinks 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. 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. Use the graphic slider above to see how the standard drink content can vary in different drinks.
  • It takes your body one hour to process one standard drink. 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.

IS A STANDARD DRINK THE SAME AS A UNIT?

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.

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. For people in Ireland, the result will be an underestimation of how much alcohol was consumed. 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.

WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN?

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.

WHAT WILL AFFECT THE NUMBER OF STANDARD DRINKS?

Alcohol strength (%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 standard drink 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 standard drink.

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