Diet & Nutrition

Why you may be drinking more alcohol than you intend to

Almost half of adult Australians don't know what a standard drink looks like.

By Cat Rodie
Rachel is 37, has three kids and works part time as an executive assistant. Like many of us, Rachel also enjoys the odd glass of wine.
If you asked her about her drinking habits she would describe them as moderate: “a couple of wines here and there, maybe a bit more on the weekend”.
Definitely nothing to worry about. Definitely not too much.
But while she is adamant that she isn’t a big drinker, Rachel’s “couple of wines here and there” add up to well over the recommended alcohol guidelines of two standard drinks a day.
Rachel isn’t in denial, she is just confused about what a unit of alcohol actually looks like. And she is far from alone.
A recent survey sponsored by Diageo found that almost half of adult Australians have no idea how much alcohol is in their favourite drink.
In the survey, 50 per cent of respondents thought that a schooner of full strength beer, a glass of wine and a single serve of spirits with a mixer all represent one standard alcoholic drink.
However, while a 30ml measure of sprit and a mixer is a standard drink, a schooner of full strength beer contains 1.6 standard drinks, and a typical glass of wine (150ml) contains 1.5 standard drinks.
Credit: DrinkIQ.com
In other words, Rachel’s “couple of wines” is actually 3 standard drinks or more (depending on whether she has measured 150ml serves).
Nick Westenberg, Public Policy Manager, Diageo Australia notes that the lack of awareness regarding the amount of alcohol in everyday drinks is a huge concern.
“The fact that half the population think that a glass of wine you’re served in a restaurant or schooner of beer at the pub is the same as a standard drink highlights the need for continued consumer information and education,” he said.
Dr Tina Lam from Curtin University’s faculty of health sciences is also concerned. She says that the risk of harm from drinking can be influenced by how much people drink. “The more you drink, the higher the risk [of harm],” she says.
“Many people might underestimate their risk because they underestimate how much they drink.”
Dr Lam says that in terms of acute alcohol-related harms such as injury, risk is minimised by consuming no more than 4 standard drinks on a single occasion.
According to Dr Lam, one way to become savvier about the amount of alcohol you are actually consuming is to conduct an experiment with yourself.
“Pour what you would usually serve in a wine glass you’re familiar with. Then, pour this volume into a measuring container to see how many ml you’ve poured. You might be surprised at how many standard drinks are contained in your usual serve,” she says.
Dr Lam notes that if your usual serve turns out to be 150ml, then you should count your usual serve as 1.5 standard drinks, and two of these usual serve glasses as 3 standard drinks.
“Next, measure out 100ml into your usual wine glass to see what a standard serve actually looks like. If you don’t have a measuring device, or want to do this experiment in your head, a standard shot glass is 30ml. So a standard drink of wine is only about 3 shot glasses worth of liquid,” Dr Lam explains.
When you look at it like this, it is easy to see why so many of us are drinking a lot more than the recommended amount.
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