Drinking limits around the world - graphic

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Globally, the idea of drinking limits is a confused picture. There is no official World Health Organisation guidance on a maximum alcohol intake, which means countries have gone their own way.

Image: Decanter tasting event

A quick comparison shows that the UK is now stricter than some European countries, notably Spain and France, but is roughly in-line with others.

The new official advice for UK drinkers is that nobody should consume more than 14 units of alcohol in a week, and everybody should have more than one day alcohol-free.

* A UK unit is defined as 8g of pure alcohol. A 175ml glass of wine at 13% abv is around 2.3 units.

But, the guidelines also say that there is no safe level of drinking – above 14 units is just the point when health risk is too big.

A controversial clause in the new guidance is that men are not safe to drink more than women. Not many other countries take this view, and Dr Michael Apstein wrote in Decanter’s February issue that there is some scientific basis for different limits. See below for examples.

Apart from the US and Ireland, information below is taken from data compiled by Alcohol in Moderation (AIM) and last updated in October 2015

Image: world drinking limit, credit Decanter

France: No more than three standard drinks per day (30g) for men, and two standard drinks for women. That’s broadly similar to the upper limits of the previous UK advice.

US: It’s a slightly more confusing state of affairs in the US, it seems. The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published in December 2015, state that women can have ‘up to’ one drink per day and men can have up to two drinks.

One standard drink is classified as 14g, which is less than two UK units, meaning that US guidelines for women are actually stricter than those across the Atlantic.

But, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines ‘low risk’ drinking for women as no more than three drinks on any single day and no more than seven drinks per week. It’s double that amount for men.

Still with us? The US also has a specific warning about alcohol and caffeine, saying that mixing the two ‘is not generally recognised as safe’. That was defined after some brewers started adding caffeine to beer a few years ago. But, perhaps that means choosing between the after-dinner Cognac or the espresso, too…

Ireland: ‘Drinking alcohol is part of everyday adult life in Ireland,’ says the country’s health department. A standard drink here is 10g, and men should not have more than 17 standard drinks in a week and women 11 drinks, the guidance states.

Australia: No more than two standard drinks per day. A standard drink is 10g, so that’s 2.5 UK units per day for both men and women – enough for a small glass of wine at 13% – or 17.5 units per week.

Germany: Here, a standard drink is considered 12g of alcohol. Men should not have more than the equivalent of two standard drinks per day and women one drink – but everyone should have two alcohol-free days per week.

Italy: The standard drink here is also 12g. Men should not drink more than two to three standard drinks per day and women one to two standard drinks.

Hong Kong: ‘If you do not drink at all, do not start drinking with the intent of improving health,’ say officials. Hong Kong does not set drinking limits, stating that there is no safe limit.

Spain: Men should have no more than 40g per day, or 28 drinks per week, and women no more than 25g per day or 17 drinks per week.

Basque country: Things are a bit more liberal here, with guidance urging people not to drink more than 70g per day – that’s seven drinks or 8.75 units (if a standard drink is 10g of alcohol).

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