drinking limits

What is a "drink"?

When figuring out if you’re drinking too much, you might look up something like “how many drinks is too many?”, or “how many drinks per week to stay healthy?”

When you do so, you’re likely to realize that many definitions rely on a certain number of drinks. But what is a drink? After all, the gigantic bachelorette party jug full of strawberry daiquiri certainly seems to get you more drunk than the tame glass of wine at home.

So: what is a drink, and how many is too many? The guidelines for moderate or healthy drinking vary by country, it turns out. We’ve sampled just a few in our guide here:

US: (Source: NIAA)

  • What is a drink? A drink is a 5oz glass of wine, a 12-oz glass of beer, or 1 shot of liquor (so cocktails that are doubles count as doubles!). This is because all of those contain roughly 14g of alcohol based on typical % by volume (12%, 5%, and 40%, respectively).

  • What is healthy drinking? Healthy drinking (or low-risk drinking for developing alcohol use disorder) means:

    • For men: no more than 14 drinks per week or 4 per day

    • For women: no more than 7 drinks per week or 3 per day

Canada: Canada’s system is similar to that of the US, with distinct limits for men and women, but has higher weekly and lower daily limits. (Source: Canadian Center on Substance Abuse)

  • What is a drink? A drink is a 12oz glass of beer, a 5oz glass of wine, or a 1.5 oz shot. All of those contain roughly 14g of alcohol.

  • What is healthy drinking?

    • For men: no more than 15 drinks per week or 3 per day

    • For women: no more than 10 drinks per week or 2 per day

UK: The UK guidelines are stricter (actually some of the strictest on record), and don’t vary by gender. (Source: NHS)

  • What is a drink? The UK thinks of alcohol in terms of units, not drinks. A unit represents 8 grams of pure alcohol, so a lot less (about half the size, actually) than the US standard drink at 14g.

  • What is healthy drinking? Healthy drinking is no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. It’s a little harder to do the math, but that’s about 8 5oz glasses of wine, 12oz glasses of beer, or 1.5oz shots per week.

Australia: Australia splits the difference, with a UK-like non-gendered units-based system that is closer to the same definition of a ‘drink’ that Canada and the US use.

  • What is a drink? A drink is 10g of pure alcohol, lower than the US/Canadian definition. That means a 1.5oz shot is about 1.4 drinks, as is a 5oz glass of wine or 12oz glass of beer.

  • What is healthy drinking? The guidance is simplest of all - no more than 2 drinks a day, for anyone (which translates to no more than 14 per week). That’s about 10 5oz glasses of wine, 12oz glasses of beer, or 1.5oz shots per week.

There you have it. Somewhere between 8 and 15 drinks a week is considered low risk, depending on your gender, based on current guidance.

If you are looking to quit or cut back on drinking, you can set a limit and track your drinking against it in Drinker’s Helper. Check it out and download it here.

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