The Proper Way to Count your Drinks

If you are like me you heard most of your adult life the recommendations for how many drinks a person should have a week. It is hard to calculate drinks though when you are drinking higher ABV beers like the commonly available 8.5% Double IPA sold in 16oz cans, which is the equivalent of two drinks. I wanted to find an easier way to calculate this for myself and inspire others to do the same. I found the best alternative measurement is to count grams of alcohol in your drink. This method was inspired by a post from my fellow blogger, Craft Beer in San Diego.
This post includes some analysis of findings in a scientific study and discussion of recommended amounts an adult should consume of alcohol in a week. To be clear, I am not a scientist nor am I a doctor or a nutritionist. These suggestions are purely practical hacks based on my experience. Though some of them are echoed in some of the studies I reviewed preparing for this blog.

How this works in practice

To calculate grams of alcohol per drink you need access to a chart, but to simplify things I calculated the grams of alcohol in the most common serving sizes I consume. It isn’t always exact but I try to be as close as possible. For example, a 12oz pour of 5% beer is 14g while a 16oz pour of 5% beer is 19g. The list of common amounts is included near the end of this article. While calculating tasters and smaller pours, I find it is easier to group together four pours and average the ABV because this is more a rough estimate than anything that needs to be exact.
Depending on how you read the studies, some would suggest you have less than 100g in a week. Official US government recommendations are between 98g and 196g per week. The way I read the studies, I decided to aim for the range of between 200 and 350g per week. Many weeks even with that in mind I ended up around 350g, sometimes higher, sometimes lower. This is above the recommended maximum of just under 200g per week but I am working on finding a level I am happy with. So why am I talking about drinking within the range of 200-350g per week when it is over the recommended range? That is where my drinking has been lately by my own calculations.

For reference, the study I am referring to concluded a few things.

1) Among current drinkers, the threshold for lowest risk of all-cause mortality was about 100 g per week
2) Men consuming between 200g and 350g per week of alcohol have a shorter life expectancy of 1-2 years.
3) Men consuming over 350g per week have a shorter life expectancy of 4-5 years.
This image is “Figure 4” from this article in The Lancet (April 2018). It shows the correlation between increased weekly alcohol consumption and decreased life expectancy.

Some things I have learned since starting this experiment.

1) If I know I have had quite a bit in the past week, over my goals, then that helps me adjust and take a few days off at the beginning of the week. This mirrors recommendations by various studies. Taking one or two days off each week is recommended in the January 2016 guidelines from the UK Chief Medical Officers cited in the study linked above.
2) If I think about the goal of eventually going below 200g per week, that usually means keeping daily consumption under 30g and taking two days off each week. Practically speaking that means no more than one pint most days and maybe one day of two pints.
Example: the standard glass of wine is approximately 16g so two glasses of wine in one night would be 32g. A pint of 7.5% beer is 28g while a pint of 5 percent beer is 19g.
3) It is a good reminder to think about a single can of 8.5% DIPA as equivalent to drinking half a bottle of wine, and two in one night to drinking a whole bottle. This is part of why I purchase IPAs that land in the 6-7% range when possible. Those double IPAs are potent. It is also why I am starting to drink more wine.
One criticism I have of these various studies is that they include in reduced life expectancy various injuries that studies have shown are more likely with higher consumption of alcohol. Some of these include injuries related to driving while intoxicated, which I would hope most of my readers do not engage in especially now that Uber is prevalent. They also link drinking over 5 UK units (less than 3 glasses of wine) in a single evening to aggression and violence. While certain types of people get violent after drinking, I have never seen a fight break out at a beer festival where many present are consuming much more than that.

Suggestions for the Beer Industry

I also echo the conclusion of Craft Beer in San Diego that the beer industry as a whole should work on making available more low ABV beers, specifically those less than 5%. In San Diego encountering anything under 5% is a rarity. It is only when beers reach 4% that a full pint is equal to a glass of wine. And the difference between 4% beer and 5% beer is more than 25% according to an article in DRAFT Magazine. The industry should also put some efforts into educating people about the amounts of these high ABV beers that an individual should safely consume in a single outing. This should also mean not serving more than 8oz of a single DIPA at a time and reducing the sizes of these cans. If not that, some sort of public education campaign should be sponsored by the various brewers associations to consider the realities.

Most common pours in grams

5oz – 9% – 10.5g, 10% – 11.7g, 11% – 12.8g, 12% – 14g
8oz – 9% –  16.8g – 10% – 18.7g, 11% – 20.5g, 12% – 22.4g, 13% – 24.3g
12oz – 5% – 14g, 6% – 17g, 7% – 20g, 8% – 22.4g, 9% – 25.2g
16oz – 5% – 18.7g, 6% – 22.4g, 7% – 26.1g, 8% – 29.9g, 9% – 33.6g
You can find the full chart at the Craft Beer in San Diego post linked above.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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