Booze Safety Guidelines Vary Around the World

By May Wilkerson 04/15/16

The US and Chile have higher recommended alcohol limits than Croatia, India, Singapore and Sweden. 

Booze Safety Guidelines Vary Around the World
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How much booze is “safe” to drink? It depends on where you are in the world, at least according to government guidelines. In the U.S., consuming 3 to 4 drinks in a day, on occasion, is considered relatively harmless. But across the ocean in Sweden or Germany, this amount is way above what is recommended. In fact, a new study finds that the guidelines for “safe” drinking vary pretty widely around the globe.

The study examined safe drinking guidelines from 37 countries across the world. These guidelines are based on two factors: the size that is defined as a “standard drink” and how many drinks are recommended as a daily or weekly limit. Researchers found the amount of booze in a standard drink varied from a low of 8 grams in Iceland, to a high of 20 grams in Austria. In the U.S., a standard drink is thought to contain 14 grams of alcohol, which is about the equivalent of a 12-ounce beer or a 5-ounce glass of wine.

But various countries also offer different recommendations for how much you should drink over a given time period. In Croatia, India, Singapore and Sweden, the recommended limit is 10 grams of alcohol (less than one drink) per day for women, and no more than 20 grams (about a drink and a half) per day for men. But the recommended limits are much higher in the U.S. and Chile, where the guidelines suggest no more than 42 grams of booze for women (about three standard drinks) and 56 grams for men (about four standard drinks) in a day.

But this doesn’t mean Americans are given a free pass to drink like this every day. The maximum amount of booze that's considered safe in a week is 98 grams (seven standard drinks) for women and 196 grams (14 drinks) for men. Many countries have higher weekly limits, like France, which recommends no more than 140 grams (10 drinks) per week for women, and 210 grams (15 drinks) per week for men. 

And not all countries set lower limits for women. In places like Australia, Grenada, Portugal and South Africa, the recommendations for safe drinking were the same for both genders. And some countries, like Canada, France, Mexico, Fiji and Denmark, offered a little leeway for occasional bouts of heavier boozing on “special occasions.”

All this variation can make it pretty confusing to know what amount of alcohol is actually optimal. "Inconsistent guidelines are also likely to increase skepticism among the public about their accuracy," study co-author Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a statement. "It is not possible that every country is correct; maybe they are all wrong." 

For example, it's still not entirely clear whether recommended drinking limits should be different for men and women, said the researchers. And exactly how much these guidelines might impact people’s health also demands further research.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.