How to estimate the amount of alcohol consumed

The problem

Estimating the amount of ethanol consumed accurately is difficult but essential to identify risk groups for alcohol-related problems. 

The varying ethanol content in different alcohol brands becomes one of the main challenges. The ethanol content in different types of alcoholic beverages varies as follows;

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

Think of this question;

How much pure ethanol is consumed by an individual when they drink two glasses of spirits?’

To answer this question, we need to know the percentage of pure ethanol in the particular spirit brand and the total amount drank. Even if we know the total amount drank, we have to do some calculations.  

The solution: “Standard drink” size

To meet the above challenges, researchers have 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

The “standard drink” size and the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT)

The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) employs the “standard drink” size concept. The AUDIT is one of the most widely used screening tools for alcohol-related problems in the world.

You can find more information about this tool through this link;https://theupstreamboat.com/quantifying-alcohol-related-problems/.

Author: Prasantha De Silva

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

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