Understanding standard drinks and drinking guidelines

Drug Alcohol Rev. 2012 Mar;31(2):200-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2011.00374.x. Epub 2011 Nov 3.


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. 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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / prevention & control
  • Alcoholic Beverages / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage
  • Ethanol / adverse effects
  • Food Labeling
  • Guidelines as Topic*
  • Humans
  • Reference Values


  • Ethanol