How to estimate the amount of alcohol consumed

The problem: Accurately estimating the ethanol amount drank is critical for a proper assessment not only among individuals but in the community also.

However, the ethanol content varies significantly by its type;

  • 5% in beer;
  • 10% – 12% in wine,
  • and 40% in spirits.

If someone consumes two glasses of spirits, it is difficult to estimate the amount of ethanol consumed if we do not know the amount of the beverage consumed. Even if we know the amount, we have to do a simple calculation to determine the amount of ethanol.

The solution: Concept of “standard drink” size.

The concept of the “standard drink size”

In order to address the above challenges, researchers created the “standard drink” concept. In Canadian and US contexts, the standard drink refers to the amount of an alcoholic beverage that contains 13.6 grams (or 0.6 ounces of 100%) of pure ethanol.  (However, the World Health Organization defines the standard drink as any alcoholic beverage that contains 10 grams of pure ethanol).

Therefore, “standard drink sizes” of beer, wine and spirits vary depending on its pure ethanol contents – beer equivalent to standard drink is larger than the wine equivalent which is larger than the spirits equivalent.

Courtesy: National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website

How Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) employs this concept

The AUDIT’s first three questions seek the amounts and frequencies of pure ethanol consumed in the 12 months prior to the interview to quantify the hazardous use of alcohol. It does this by asking questions in terms of the number of standard drinks consumed. You can find the complete tool through this link:

Author: Prasantha De Silva

A specialist in Community Medicine board-certified in Sri Lanka and a research analyst in Canada

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.