U.S. vs. Europe: Alcohol Guidelines, Consumption Rates, and Drunk Driving Incidents

Alcohol consumption has been a part of human culture for millennia. The effects of drinking are widely known—both through common sense and scientific studies. One point on which science and folk wisdom agree: too much alcohol isn’t particularly good for your health and can cause mental impairment.

Worldwide, attempts to ban alcohol outright haven’t been especially successful. The U.S. experiment with Prohibition was a disaster. Nations that prohibit alcohol today—such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen—are considered intolerant and repressive. But, while outright bans aren’t on the table any more, modern nations are using their regulatory tools to limit alcohol consumption and reduce drunk-driving accidents.

Why Other Nations’ Alcohol Policies Matter

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, much of the U.S. progress in decreasing impaired driving rates has been facilitated by learning various lessons from other countries. Every country has its own alcohol laws dictating who can drink (age), when to drink (last calls), and, perhaps most importantly, how much to drink to remain mentally attuned. The United States monitors these international guidelines and incorporates the successes into our campaigns, public service announcements, and even legislation such as blood alcohol content (BAC) limits and laws.

Suggested Drinking Limits Around the World

Whether you’re a world traveler or not, knowing how other countries view alcohol consumption can not only give you a broader sense of risks and responsibilities but also educate you on how varying laws affect countries’ DUI rates and risks. The following countries have varying regulations and suggestions on how much a person should medically be allowed to drink in a week and how much he can drink before being considered legally drunk. Since the legal marker for intoxication varies, you can see how lower and higher limits affect accident rates per country.

Suggested amounts are measured in units per week. One unit = 88 ml of wine, 247 ml beer, 203 ml cider, or 25 ml spirits.

  • The United States. On average, the U.S. suggests no more than 24.5 units of alcohol per week for men and 12.25 units per week for women. State laws in Florida (and all other states) considers a blood alcohol level above 0.08% as being legally drunk. An average of 262,800 people a year are injured and killed in DUI accidents in the United States.
  • Spain. On average, the unit limits for Spain allow for men to consume up to 35 units per week while women should not exceed 21.25 units per week. National intoxication laws set a level of 0.05% blood alcohol concentration. Spain’s DUI accident injury rates: approximately 1,000 fatal injuries a year are caused by drunk driving.
  • Ireland. On average, Ireland suggests that men should drink no more than 21.25 units in a week, and women should drink no more than 13.5 units. Ireland’s blood alcohol concentration law sets 0.05% BAC as the standard for intoxication. An estimated 160 fatal accidents a year occur in Ireland as a result of drunk driving.
  • The United Kingdom. Recent guidelines proposed by the UK suggest that both men and women should limit their alcohol consumption to no more than 14 units per week. The blood alcohol concentration law sets 0.05% BAC as the intoxication standard for most of the United Kingdom; England’s threshold is 0.08%, the same as that in the United States. UK drunk-driving injury statistics show 3,000 people are injured a year.

As shown, the countries with lower accident rates have lower BAC limits. Furthermore, the U.S.—with the highest BAC limit—has an huge lead on DUI accidents numbers over all the other countries combined.

Is it Time for U.S. Laws to Be Adjusted?

Considering the overwhelming risks that alcohol consumption creates (physical injuries from DUI accidents, increased risk of cancer, heart disease, cirrhosis, etc.), are standardized limits a necessity? Should the United States look to Europe and decrease its suggested limits? Does it matter that our legal BAC limit (0.08%) is the highest among western democracies?

Share your thoughts in the comment section provided on this page. We’re eager to learn what you think about alcohol laws across the globe and how you feel about the laws in your own backyard.

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