Standard drink labels help consumers track their alcohol use and reduce risk: study

Do you know how many ounces of wine or scotch constitute a “standard drink”? Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines recommend women drink fewer than two standard drinks a day and men three. Is a can or a bottle or a pint of beer equivalent to standard drink? What if the beer is eight per cent alcohol by volume, not five? And how many drinks are in a bottle of your favourite wine or spirits? Figuring it out is confusing and requires a lot of math on the fly. With alcohol contributing to almost 2,000 deaths and more than 20,000 hospital admissions in BC per year, consumers need to keep track of their drinking to reduce health risks.

A new University of Victoria study by researchers at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC (CARBC) shows that a simple, internationally tested method of “standard drink” labelling is an essential tool for those who wish to stay within Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines and/or legal blood alcohol content driving limits. The study asked drinkers to estimate the number of standard drinks in containers of their favourite beverages in two conditions: either with a standard drink label or with the current percentage alcohol content label.

The study published in the international journal Addiction Research and Theory is based on research Montana Osiowy conducted with 301 liquor store patrons while she was a science undergraduate at UVic. She found low levels of awareness of both low-risk drinking guidelines and the concept of a “standard drink.” The study also demonstrated that drinkers were much more accurate estimating the alcohol content of their favourite drinks when they carried standard drink labels instead of the current labels used in Canada, which is per cent of alcohol by volume labels. After taking part, study participants showed high levels of support (83 per cent) for the concept of standard drink labelling.

“The risk we take with alcohol is directly related to the dose. Standard drink labels can help people stay within low-risk drinking guidelines and within the legal limit for driving,” the study's lead author, Osiowy explains.

The idea of a standard drink labelling isn’t new. Law in Australia has required it since 1995. New Zealand followed suit shortly after. In the UK, labelling is voluntary but has become widely adopted as part of a government-industry partnership. In Canada, the idea was first promoted in 2007 by a working group of the National Alcohol Strategy Advisory Committee (NASAC), a consortium of health, police, corrections, First Nations, research and alcohol industry groups of which the study’s co-author Dr. Tim Stockwell is a member. The recommendation hasn’t yet been adopted by Health Canada. NASAC is developing a template for standard drink labels to be adopted by Canadian alcohol producers on a voluntary basis.

Now a medical student at UBC, Osiowy produced this video with fellow students to explain the research findings.

An infographic is available for download and publishing. Find a smaller version here.

Note: A copy of the full study is available on request.

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Media contacts

Montana Osiowy (former researcher, Centre for Addictions Research) at

Kara Thompson (Centre for Addictions Research) at 250-853-3238 or

Suzanne Ahearne (University Communications + Marketing) at 250-721-6139 or

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Keywords: Centre for Addictions Research of BC, alcohol, addiction, research

People: Centre for Addictions Research of BC

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