How much booze is “too much” booze?

Doctors and health specialists the world over will warn you of the dangers of excessive drinking – but a new study shows that no one can agree on what constitutes “too much”.

A new research paper by Dr Keith Humphreys analysed the drinking guidelines of 75 countries across the world – including South Africa – and found that there was no consensus on what the standard size of an alcoholic drink should be.

In fact, the researchers found that most of the 75 national governments examined were not identified as having adopted a standard drink definition – and among the 37 that were, the standard drink size varied widely: between 8 and 20 grams of pure alcohol per drink.

The average among all the countries that identified a standard was 10g per drink – a definition adopted by the World Health Organisation.

A 10g drink is equivalent to 250ml of 5% beer, 97ml of 13% wine or 32ml of 40% spirits.

However, even in countries where the ‘standard’ drink was the same, the recommended per day and per week guidelines were different, and in many cases, guidelines were also different for men and women.

Country “Standard” drink (g) Per day guide for women Per week guide for women Per day guidefor men Per week guide for men
Austria 20 16 112 24 168
Chile 14 42 98 56 196
Mexico 14 14 126 28 168
Philippines 14 14 28
United States 14 42 98 56 196
Grenada 14 14 14
Canada 13.8 27 136 40.7 204
Bulgaria 13
Luxembourg 12.8 12.8 25.6
Denmark 12 84 168
Germany 12 12 24
Italy 12 20 36
Latvia 12 16 96 24 156
South Africa 11-12 24 24
Switzerland 10-12 20-24 30-36
Portugal 10-12 10-24 10-24
Austria 10 20 20
Vietnam 10 20 140 40 280
Poland 10 20 140 40 280
France 10 20 140 30 210
Ireland 10 110 170
Spain 10 110 170
Fiji 10 20 100 30 150
New Zealand 10 20 100 30 150
Estonia 10 20 40
Australia 10 20 20
Sweden 10 10 20
Slovenia 10 10 20
Singapore 10 10 20
India 10 10 20
Croatia 10 10 20
China 10 50 100
Malaysia 10
Malta 8-10 112-140 168-210
Iceland 8 112 168
United Kingdom 8 16-24 24-32
Japan 20 40

This means that someone who would be deemed and “excessive drinker” in China (where the ‘standard’ is 100g per week), would still be well within the guidelines for somewhere like Poland (280g per week).

On the other hand, if you were a Polish woman, that level of consumption would be pushing it, as the recommended limit is half that (140g).

According to Humphreys, the research was done to inform policy makers – on both a local and international level – of how to approach the concepts of “low-risk” drinking guidelines in various locations.

The general population changes its level of alcohol consumption in response to governments defining standard drinks and publishing low-risk drinking guidelines, he said, so comparing the potential health impact of different nations’ guidelines “would be a worthy activity for international research teams”.

South Africa puts a standard drink at 12g (300ml of 5% beer; 117ml of 13% wine; and 37ml of 40% spirits), with a daily recommendation at 24g (two standard drinks) for both men and women.

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