Summer is here and with it comes the BBQ and beach, beer and bubbles. Sounds lovely, right? Yes, as long as us summer-loving Kiwis are aware of how much we’re drinking, the real size of a standard drink, and how much our bodies can handle. Most New Zealanders have no idea about the size of a standard drink. While 80% of us have heard about standard drinks, only 25% of us can actually explain what it means – let alone how to pour one so by simply reading on you will become one of the enlightened few!

When it comes to alcohol there is one simple fact that can help you to answer pretty much any question you might have about alcohol – How much can I drink to drive home tonight? How much can I drink to stay professional at my client function? How much can I drink and still be OK to look after the kids tomorrow morning? All these questions and any other “how much can I drink” style questions can typically be answered by knowing this one fact:

A healthy adult liver can only process 10gms of pure alcohol (1 standard drink) per hour and there is no way to speed this process up.

That is why experts say “one an hour” is a good rule of thumb for most adult drinkers. It’s not complicated rocket science and it is made even easier by the fact that every bottle of alcohol sold in NZ must have the number of standard drinks printed on the label.


Have you seen something like this and wondered what it actually means? Well now you know – this information is telling you how long it is going to take your body to process (or metabolize if you want the technical term) the alcohol in that bottle or can. So if the label on your bottle of beer says 1.3 standard drinks, that means it will take you 1.3 hours to process the alcohol in that one bottle, a bottle of Sav Blanc at a BYO dinner will be more like 7.4 hours if you drink it alone! Food for thought isn’t it?

Knowing what a standard drink is and that your body can only process 1 standard drink per hour is the key to smarter drinking regardless of what your favourite tipple is.

Now it is all very well and easy when you have the bottle in your hand, and you can see the label for yourself but what if you are out and about being served alcohol by someone else? Well here is a quick Standard Drinks guide to give you an idea of how much you are really drinking:

  • 100mls wine = 1 Standard drink
  • 255mls of 5% beer or cider = 1 Standard drink
  • 30mls spirit = 1 Standard drink
  • 180ml 7% RTD = 1 Standard drink

Contrary to popular belief, the measure of the standard drink is the same regardless of what you’re drinking. Remember – a standard drink is one that contains 10gms of pure alcohol. Naturally as the ABV (the strength of the alcohol) goes up the volume of a standard drinks decreases and that is why we can drink 330ml of a 4% beer and only 30mls of a 40% spirit before we hit the 1 standard drink mark. To see what this looks like in real life – check out the glasses below which all contain 1 Standard drink:


Click here to download a poster for the fridge if you want help remembering this in the future.

Now lots of us will look at this picture and think that’s pathetic or unrealistic, “I’d never pour myself a glass like that!”. And you are not alone but this is where the challenge lies as 1 standard drink is not necessarily the same as 1 glass or 1 bottle. So, let’s have a look at how many standard drinks there are in some more typical pours:

  • A standard wine in a bar (150ml) = 1.5 standard drinks / 1.5 hours to process
  • A large wine (220ml) = 2.2 standard drinks / 2.2 hours to process
  • A “pint” of 5% beer (500mls) = 2 standard drinks / 2 hours to process
  • A 1.8L jug of 4% beer = 5.7 standard drinks / 5.7 hours to process
  • A double bourbon = 1 standard drink / 1 hour to process
  • A Mojito = 2 standard drinks / 2 hours to process


Knowing how much you are drinking and watching the speed at which you drink are key to lasting a social occasion in style. Remember there is no way to speed the liver up. Yes water, food, medication, your size etc can make us feel the effects of the alcohol differently but they DON’T speed up the processing of the alcohol itself. Your liver can only process 1 standard drink (10gms of pure alcohol) per hour. So, if you have:

  • 2 standard glasses of wine at lunch = 2 hours to process
  • A dozen 5% beers on Friday night = 15.6 hours to process
  • A bottle of red shared with your partner over dinner = 4.15 hours to process each person (total 8.3 hours)
  • A couple of ciders with a friend after work = 3 hours to process
what-does-alcohol-do to-the-body

That is why our body and mind are affected by alcohol when we drink. If you drink more than 1 standard drink an hour, your other vital organs, namely your heart, brain and lungs will be called on to support the liver to do its job which is not great for our health & wellbeing. Alcohol and how it affects us is a topic for a whole new article of its own (watch this space) but until then if you are keen to see the journey your body goes on when you drink, check out our Blood Alcohol Simulator here. Please note this is a reference tool only. It should not be used to help you make serious decisions e.g. those linked to driving.

So next time you find yourself asking a “how much can I drink” question – stop and think about the size of the drinks you have been having and how many standard drinks that REALLY is.

Remember its 1:1 – 1 standard drink = 1 hour to process!

If you want to practise pouring a standard drink for yourself – check out our interactive pour exercise here otherwise test the true size of your drinks on our Standard Drink Calculator. Here’s cheers to drinking smarter this summer.

Alcohol&Me Team

P.S – Don’t forget, you can always ask the person serving you to show you the standard drink info on the label. It’s best not to just guess and all good bar staff should be able to tell you exactly how much you are drinking The decisions you make after the first drop of alcohol has touched your lips will never be as good as the ones you will make stone cold sober!


  • Like all your vital organs, the human liver is not fully grown until you are in your mid to late 20’s therefore an adult liver refers to those over 25 years old.
  • Unlike the UK where the size of a drink is set in rule, a “pint” in NZ typically describes the biggest glass they serve beer in. In some outlets this might be 570mls, in others it might only be 440mls, so glassware can make a huge difference to the amount you are actually drinking.
  • In NZ, all spirits served in bars are sold as “Doubles” unless you request otherwise. Before you despair, a double is actually 1 standard drink. It dates back to the days of nip pourers (the funny little spouts on the top of spirit bottles which you don’t see very often now days) which were designed to pour out a 15ml measure of spirit. So, a double is 2 nip pours or 30mls which is one standard drink.
  • Most cocktails served in NZ will have a 45 – 60ml spirit base so it is worth being aware that those great looking drinks are packing 1.5 – 2 standard drinks per glass!