Understanding standard drinks and drinking guidelines


William C. Kerr PhD, Senior Scientist, Tim Stockwell PhD, Scientist. Dr William C. Kerr, Alcohol Research Group, 6475 Christie Avenue, Suite 400, Emeryville, CA 94608, USA. Tel: +1 (510) 597 3440; Fax: +1 (510) 985 6459; E-mail: wkerr@arg.org


Introduction and Aims.For consumers to follow drinking guidelines and limit their risk of negative consequences they need to track their ethanol consumption. This paper reviews published research on the ability of consumers to utilise information about the alcohol content of beverages when expressed in different forms, for example in standard drinks or units versus percentage alcohol content.

Design and Methods.A review of the literature on standard drink definitions and consumer understanding of these, actual drink pouring, use of standard drinks in guidelines and consumer understanding and use of these.

Results.Standard drink definitions vary across countries and typically contain less alcohol than actual drinks. Drinkers have difficulty defining and pouring standard drinks with over-pouring being the norm such that intake volume is typically underestimated. Drinkers have difficulty using percentage alcohol by volume and pour size information in calculating intake but can effectively utilise standard drink labelling to track intake.

Discussion and Conclusions.Standard drink labelling is an effective but little used strategy for enabling drinkers to track their alcohol intake and potentially conform to safe or low-risk drinking guidelines.[Kerr WC, Stockwell T. Understanding standard drinks and drinking guidelines. Drug Alcohol Rev 2012;31:200–205]