Does size really matter?

When it comes to alcohol, the answer to this much debated question is definitely YES. Knowing the size of your drink is the single most important thing you can do to make smarter drinking choices. In this article we are going to fill you in on all the facts you need to know about the size of your favourite drinks and how you can use this info to make sure you remember the drinking occasion for all the right reasons!

To kick start this discussion we all need to know this single fact:

The adult human liver can only process approximately one standard drink an hour – that’s just 10gm of pure alcohol and there no way to speed this process up.

This means that making smarter drinking choices start with knowing what a standard drink looks like for your favourite tipple and, spoiler alert …’s not always one bottle or glass. Here is a quick Standard Drinks guide to give you an idea of how much you’re really drinking but you might also like to check out our online Standard Drink Calculator:

  • 100ml 12-14% wine = 1 Standard drink
  • 255ml of 5% beer or cider = 1 Standard drink
  • 30ml spirit = 1 Standard drink
  • 180ml 7% RTD = 1 Standard drink

This is why experts say “one an hour” is a good rule of thumb or general rule for most adult drinkers. Following this is made even easier by the fact that every bottle or can of alcohol sold in NZ must have the number of standard drinks printed on the label – the information you need is literally in the palm of your hand!

Now that you know the human body can only process 1 standard drink per hour (10g of pure alcohol) per hour, you will have probably figured out that this label is telling you how long it is going to take to process (or metabolize if you want the technical term) the alcohol in that bottle or can. So, if the label on the can of beer or cider says 1.6 standard drinks, that means it will take you 1.6 hours to process the alcohol in that one can. A bottle of red wine with dinner will be more like 8.3 hours if you drink it alone! (FYI this is more than 80% of the weekly recommended number of drinks for a female and over 50% for a male in 1 bottle – you can read more about these low risk drinking guidelines here)

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 10g of pure alcohol). Naturally as the ABV (the strength or percentage of the alcohol) goes up the volume of a standard drink decreases. That’s why we can drink 330ml of a 4% beer and only 30ml 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:


Let’s be honest, few of us actually stick to 1 standard drink per hour on a drinking occasion so the excess alcohol will start to back up in your system and your reactions/reasoning will be compromised.

To get the full lowdown on alcohol and how it affects your body, you can check out our highly informative, practical online module here, but a pretty good indicator that you’ve had more to drink than your body can handle, is when you start saying or doing things you wouldn’t normally do.

Like most things, it is different strokes for different folks, but to enjoy alcohol safely and sociably, the best thing you can do is to think about the real size of your drinks and the speed at which you drink them. At Alcohol&Me, we call this our SIZE, PACE, SPACE mantra:

SIZE:   Get to know the size of your drinks and stop kidding yourself, it was just one wine, when you have ½ a bottle in your glass

PACE:   Know your limit and build a plan around this. Think about what’s a good pace for you to stay in the happy, relaxed space all night. Eating well before, during and after drinking will also help, so sip slower and enjoy the conversation!

SPACE:   Space your drinks out to last the distance in style. Maybe that is having a glass of water each hour, choosing drinks with a lower alcohol content, having a meal, playing a game of pool or hitting the dance floor without a drink in your hand.

Knowing what a standard drink is for your beverage of choice and that your body can only process 1 standard drink per hour is the key to smarter drinking. So next time you find yourself asking a “how much can I drink” question remember it’s 1:1 – 1 standard drink = 1 hour to process!  If you want to practice pouring a standard drink for yourself – check out our interactive pour exercise here. Otherwise here’s cheers to thinking before drinking!

Alcohol&Me Team