How Safe Alcohol Guidelines Vary Around The World

Bottoms up.

If you're looking to monitor your alcohol intake, you may be likely to look up the Government's recommendations around safe consumption.

But a new review has revealed that official guidelines around low-risk drinking vary greatly around the world.

Researchers from Stanford University found that measurements of the amount of alcohol in a "standard drink" ranged from 8g in Iceland and the UK to 20g in Austria.

In the most conservative countries, "low-risk" consumption means drinking no more than 10g of alcohol per day for women and 20g for men.

But in Chile, a person can down 56g of alcohol per day and still be considered a low-risk drinker.

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The scientists analysed the definitions of "standard drink" and "low-risk" drinking in 37 countries around the world to create their report.

They concluded that there is a risk of confusion around safe drinking due to the varying figures.

Psychiatrist Professor Keith Humphreys, who co-led the research, told the Press Association: "There's a substantial chance for misunderstanding.

"A study of the health effects of low-risk drinking in France could be misinterpreted by researchers in the United States who may use a different definition of drinking levels.

"Inconsistent guidelines are also likely to increase scepticism among the public about their accuracy. It is not possible that every country is correct; maybe they are all wrong."

He added: "If you think your country should have a different definition of a standard drink or low-risk drinking, take heart - there's probably another country that agrees with you."

In the UK, new advice introduced in January says men should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week, the same as the limit for women. The previous guidelines were 21 units for men and 14 units for women per week.

Adding to confusion is the difference between a unit and a gram of alcohol.

A unit translates to 10ml, or 8g, of pure alcohol - the amount of alcohol the average adult can process in an hour.

A one-unit alcoholic drink is roughly equivalent to 250ml of 4% strength beer, 76ml of 13% wine, or 25ml of 40% spirits.

According to the latest report, although the World Health Organisation (WHO) defines a standard drink as one containing 10g of alcohol, this is not accepted by half the countries studied.

Prof Humphreys said: "More and more countries are trying to give their citizens guidelines about how much alcohol is safe to drink, and for whom. At the very least, we should know whether it's true that women should drink less than men. But even this is unclear.

"We've also learned that what constitutes a 'standard drink' in each country is far from standard, despite the WHO's recommendation.

"But in many cases these guidelines are adopted as public health policy and even printed onto alcoholic beverages without knowing whether people read them, understand them or change their behaviour as a result."

The study is published in full in the journal Addiction.

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