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Standard drink

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United States standard drinks of beer, malt liquor, wine, and spirits compared. Each contains about 14 grams or 17.7 ml of ethanol.

A standard drink or (in the UK) unit of alcohol is a measure of alcohol consumption representing a fixed amount of pure alcohol. The notion is used in relation to recommendations about alcohol consumption and its relative risks to health. It helps to educate alcohol users.[1] A hypothetical alcoholic beverage sized to one standard drink varies in volume depending on the alcohol concentration of the beverage (for example, a standard drink of spirits takes up much less space than a standard drink of beer), but it always contains the same amount of alcohol and therefore produces the same amount of drunkenness.[1] Many government health guidelines specify low to high risk amounts in units of grams of pure alcohol per day, week, or single occasion. These government guidelines often illustrate these amounts as standard drinks of various beverages, with their serving sizes indicated. Although used for the same purpose, the definition of a standard drink varies from country to country.

Labeling beverages with the equivalent number of standard drinks is common in some countries.

Definitions in various countries[edit]

There is no international consensus on how much pure alcohol is contained in a standard drink;[2] values in different countries range from 8 g to 20 g. The example questionnaire form for the World Health Organization's Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) uses 10 g,[3] and this definition has been adopted by more countries than any other amount.[4] Some countries choose to base the definition on mass of alcohol (in grams) while others base the unit on the volume (in mL or other volume units).[1] For comparison, both measurements are shown here, as well as the number of standard drinks contained in 500 mL of 5% ABV beer (16.9 US fl oz, a typical large size of beer in Europe, slightly larger than a US pint of 473 mL). The terminology for the unit also varies, as shown in the Notes column.

Amount of pure alcohol (in grams or millilitres) contained in a standard drink, as defined in different countries.
Country Mass
# drinks in 500 mL of 5% ABV beer Notes
Albania[5] 10 12.7 2.0
Albania[5] 14 17.7 1.4
Australia[4][6] 10 12.7 2.0
Austria[4][5] 20 25.3 1.0
Benin[5] 14 17.7 1.4
Bosnia and Herzegovina[5] 10 12.7 2.0
Canada[4][7][8] 13.6 or 13.45 [9] or 13.5[10] 17.2 or 17 [9] 1.5 This specific unit is computed based on the oz definition as:
  • 12 oz (341 mL) bottle of 5% alcohol beer, cider or cooler
  • 1.5 oz (43 mL) shot of 40% hard liquor (vodka, rum, whisky, gin etc.)
  • 5 oz (142 mL) glass of 12% wine.[11]
Costa Rica[5] 8 10 2.5
Croatia[5] 10 12.7 2.0
Denmark[4][5] 12 15.2 1.6
Estonia[5] 10 12.7 2.0
Fiji[5] 10 12.7 2.0
Finland[12] 12 15.2 1.6
France[4] 10 12.7 2.0
Georgia[5] 10 12.7 2.0
Germany[4][13] 11 13.8 1.8 Standardglas defined as containing 10–12 g (central value used here)
Guyana[5] 8 10 2.5
Hong Kong[14] 10 12.7 2.0
Hungary 17 21.5 1.2
Iceland[4][15] 8 10 2.5 áfengiseining defined as 8 g but treated as equivalent to 10 mL
Ireland[4][16] 10 12.7 2.0
Italy[4] 12 15.2 1.6 unità standard defined as 12 g
Japan[3][17] 19.75 25 1.0 "unit (tan'i)". MHLW's conventional unit, based on 1 gō (unit) (approx. 180 mL) of sake. Not any "standard".
Japan[17] 10 12.7 2.0 "drink (dorinku)". Introduced around 2011 to align with the WHO AUDIT, and to avoid the conventional unit (20 g) of giving a false impression of "minimum amount to drink".[18] Sometimes also called "unit (tan'i)".[19] Has no implication of being any "standard".
Korea, Republic of[5] 8 10 2.5
Latvia[5] 12 15.2 1.6
Luxembourg[5] 10-12 12.7-15.2 1.6-2.0
Malta[5] 8 10 2.5
Mexico[5] 10-13 12.7-16.5 1.5-2.0
Namibia[5] 10 12.7 2.0
Netherlands[5] 10 12.7 2.0
New Zealand[4][20][21] 10 12.7 2.0
North Macedonia[5] 14.2 18 1.4
Norway 12.8 15 1.7
Philippines[5] 12 15.2 1.6
Poland[4] 10 12.7 2.0
Portugal[4] 11 13.8 1.8 10–12 g (central value used here)
Russia[5] 10 12.7 2.0
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines[5] 14 17.7 1.4
Seychelles[5] 8 10 2.5
Singapore[5] 10 12.7 2.0
Slovenia[5] 10 12.7 2.0
Spain[4] 10 12.7 2.0
Sweden 12 15.2 1.6 standardglas corresponds to 33 cl 5% beer, 13 cl wine, or a drink or shot based on 4 cl 40% liquor[22]
Switzerland[4] 12 15.2 1.6
Taiwan (ROC)[5] 10 12.7 2.0
Ukraine[5] 10 12.7 2.0
United Kingdom[4][23][24] 8 10 2.5 unit of alcohol[a] defined as 10 mL but treated as equivalent to 8 g.[26]
United States[27][4][28] 14 17.7 1.4 standard drink defined as 0.6 fl oz (US) pure ethanol, approximately 14 g
Uruguay[5] 10 12.7 2.0

Calculation of pure alcohol mass in a serving[edit]

Chart showing alcohol unit count for drink size and ABV

In the UK, it is sometimes misleadingly stated that there is one unit per half-pint of beer, or small glass of wine, or single measure of spirits. However, such statements do not take into account the various strengths and volumes supplied in practice.[29][30] Such approximations can lead to people underestimating their alcohol intake.[30] In some countries, the number of units of alcohol in a beverage can instead be read directly on the label.[31]

In countries without labeling, it is possible to calculate the pure alcohol mass in a serving from the concentration, density of alcohol, and volume:

For example, a 350 ml glass of beer with an ABV of 5.5% contains 19.25 ml of pure alcohol, which has a density of 0.78945 g/mL (at 20 °C),[32] and therefore a mass of 15.20 grams. or

The standard UK units of alcohol in a drink can be determined by multiplying the volume of the drink (in millilitres) by its percentage ABV, and dividing by 1000. For example, one imperial pint (568 ml) of beer at 4% alcohol by volume (ABV) contains:

The formula uses ml ÷ 1000. This results in exactly one unit per percentage point per litre, of any alcoholic beverage.

The formula can be simplified for everyday use by expressing the serving size in centilitres and the alcohol content literally as a percentage:

Thus, a 750 ml bottle of wine at 12% ABV contains 75 cl × 12% = 9 units. Alternatively, the serving size in litres multiplied by the alcohol content as a number, the above example giving 0.75 × 12 = 9 units:

In the UK, both pieces of input data are usually mentioned in this form on the bottle, so are easy to retrieve.

When drink size is in fluid ounces (which differ between the UK and the US), the following conversions can be used:

Country Volume of fl. oz. (mL) Mass of fl. oz. of alcohol (g)
UK 28.41 22.43
US 29.57 23.34

One should bear in mind that a pint in the UK is 20 imperial fluid ounces, whereas a pint in the US is 16 US fluid ounces. However, as 1 imperial fl. oz. ≈ 0.961 US fl. oz., this means 1 imperial pint ≈ 1.201 US pints (i.e. 0.961 × 20/16) instead of 1.25 US pints.

Reference standard drinks[edit]

A standard drink is often different from a normal serving in the country in which it is served.[33] For example, in the United States, a standard drink is defined as 0.6 US fluid ounce of ethanol per serving, which is about 14 grams of alcohol.[27][34][32] This corresponds to a 12-US-fluid-ounce (350 mL) can of 5% beer, a 5-US-fluid-ounce (150 mL) glass of 12% ABV (alcohol by volume) wine, or a 1.5-US-fluid-ounce (44 mL) so-called "shot" of spirit,[27] assuming that beer is 5% ABV, wine is 12% ABV, and spirits is 40% ABV (80 proof). Most wine today is higher than 12% ABV (the average ABV in Napa Valley in 1971 was 12.5% [35]), hence will be more than a standard drink. Similarly, although 40% ABV is standard for spirits, the amount of spirit in a mixed drink varies widely.


  • Half an imperial pint (284 ml) of beer with 3.5% ABV contains almost exactly one UK unit; however, most beers are stronger. In pubs in the United Kingdom, beers generally range from 3.5 to 5.5% ABV, and continental lagers start at around 4% ABV. An imperial pint of such lager (e.g., 568 ml at 5.2%) contains almost 3 units of alcohol[36] rather than the oft-quoted 2 units.
  • Stronger beer (6–12%) may contain 2 units or more per half pint (imperial).
  • A half-litre (500 ml) of standard lager or ale (5%) contains 2.5 units.
  • One litre (1000 ml) of typical Oktoberfest beer (5.5–6%) contains 5.5–6 units of alcohol.
  • A beer bottle is typically 333-355ml, approximately 1.7 units at 5%.
  • 375 ml can of light beer (2.7% alcohol) = 0.8 Australian standard drinks
  • 375 ml can of mid-strength beer (3.5% alcohol) = 1 Australian standard drink
  • 375 ml can of full strength beer (4.8% alcohol) = 1.4 Australian standard drinks
  • 355 ml can (12 fl oz) of 5% ABV beer = 1 US standard drink


A large (250 ml) glass of 12% ABV red wine has about three UK units of alcohol. A medium (175 ml) glass has about two UK units.
  • A "medium" glass (175 ml) of 12% ABV wine contains around 2.1 units of alcohol. However, British pubs and restaurants often supply larger quantities (large glass ≈ 250 ml), which contain 3 units. Red wines often have a higher alcohol content (on average 12.5%, sometimes up to 16%). Even though the sizes of wine glasses are defined in UK law, the terms large, medium, standard, etc. are not defined in law.
  • Wine sold by the glass is often served in nearly full glasses. Wine served at home, or when bought by the bottle in, say, a restaurant, is usually served in glasses less than half filled; the capacity of a wine glass is not the only criterion for judging quantity.
  • A 750 ml bottle of 12% ABV wine contains 9 units; 16% ABV wine contains 12 units; a fortified wine such as port at 20% ABV contains 15 units.
  • 100 ml glass of wine (13.5% alcohol) = 1 Australian standard drink
  • 150 ml glass of wine (13.5% alcohol) = 1.5 Australian standard drinks
  • One 5 fl oz glass of 12% ABV table wine, or 148ml, is one US standard drink.

Fortified wines[edit]

  • A small glass (50 ml) of sherry, fortified wine, or cream liqueur (≈20% ABV) contains about one unit.


Most spirits sold in the United Kingdom have 35%-40% ABV. In England, a single pub measure (25 ml) of a spirit contains one unit. However, a larger 35 ml measure is increasingly used (and in particular is standard in Northern Ireland[37]), which contains 1.4 units of alcohol at 40% ABV. Sellers of spirits by the glass must state the capacity of their standard measure in ml.

In Australia, a 30 ml shot of spirits (40% ABV) is 0.95 standard drinks.

In the US, one shot of 80 proof liquor is 1.5 fl oz or 44ml, and one US standard drink.

Mixed spirits and alcopops[edit]

  • 440 ml can of pre-mix spirits (approx. 5% alcohol) = 1.7 Australian standard drinks
  • 440 ml can pre-mix spirits (approx. 7% alcohol) = 2.4 Australian standard drinks
  • According to Alcohol and You Northern Ireland resource website, "Most alcopops contain 1.1–1.5 units per bottle. For example, a normal 275 ml bottle of WKD contains 1.1 units, whereas Bacardi Breezer and Smirnoff Ice both contain 1.5 units of alcohol."[38]

Recommended maximum[edit]

From 1992 to 1995, the UK government advised that men should drink no more than 21 units per week, and women no more than 14.[39] (The difference between the sexes was due to the typically lower weight and water-to-body-mass ratio of women).[40] The Times claimed in October 2007 that these limits had been "plucked out of the air" and had no scientific basis.[41]

This was changed after a government study showed that many people were in effect "saving up" their units and using them at the end of the week,[42][43] a form of binge drinking. Since 1995 the advice was that regular consumption of 3–4 units a day for men, or 2–3 units a day for women, would not pose significant health risks, but that consistently drinking four or more units a day (men), or three or more units a day (women), is not advisable.[44]

An international study[45] of about 6,000 men and 11,000 women for a total of 75,000 person-years found that people who reported that they drank more than a threshold value of 2 units of alcohol a day had a higher risk of fractures than non-drinkers. For example, those who drank over 3 units a day had nearly twice the risk of a hip fracture.

Relation to blood alcohol content[edit]

As a rough guide, it takes about one hour for the body to metabolise (break down) one UK unit of alcohol, 10 ml (8 grams). However, this will vary with body weight, sex, age, personal metabolic rate, recent food intake, the type and strength of the alcohol, and medications taken. Alcohol may be metabolised more slowly if liver function is impaired.[24] For other countries, it may be easiest to convert to UK units. For example, in the United States one standard drink contains 14 grams ≈ 1.75 units of alcohol, and so a US standard drink takes the body about an hour and three-quarters to process. Blood alcohol content can more accurately be estimated by using Widmark's formula.[46]


Example of Wine Bottle label in accordance with UK voluntary health labelling scheme

Australia introduced standard drink labelling in the 1990's,[47] and New Zealand followed with a labelling requirement starting in 2002.[48] The labels were criticized for being too small to read. A focus group study found that most student drinkers used the labels to choose stronger drinks and identify the cheapest method of getting drunk, rather than to drink safely.[47]

In the UK in March 2011, alcohol companies voluntarily pledged to the UK Department of Health to implement a health labelling scheme to provide more information about responsible drinking on alcohol labels and containers. The pledge stated:[49]

"We will ensure that over 80% of products on shelf (by December 2013) will have labels with clear unit content, NHS guidelines and a warning about drinking when pregnant."

At the end of 2014, 101 companies had committed to the pledge labelling scheme.[49]

There are five elements included within the overall labelling scheme, the first three being mandatory, and the last two optional:

  1. Unit alcohol content per container (mandatory), and per serving (optional). Typical servings deliver 1–3 units of alcohol.[50]
  2. Chief Medical Officer's daily guidelines for lower-risk consumption
  3. Pregnancy warning (in text or as a graphic)
  4. Mention of "drinkaware.co.uk" (optional)
  5. Responsibility statement (e.g., "please drink responsibly") (optional)
Further detailed specifications about the labelling scheme are available from the "Alcohol labelling tool kit".[51]

Drinks companies had pledged to display the three mandatory items on 80% of drinks containers on shelves in the UK off-trade by the end of December 2013.[51] A report published in November 2014, confirmed that UK drinks producers had delivered on that pledge with a 79.3% compliance with the pledge elements as measured by products on shelf. Compared with labels from 2008 on a like-for-like basis, information on Unit alcohol content had increased by 46%; 91% of products displayed alcohol and pregnancy warnings (18% in 2008); and 75% showed the Chief Medical Officers' lower risk daily guidelines (6% in 2008).[52]

Studies published in 2021 in the UK showed that the label could be further enhanced by including pictures of units and a statement of the drinking guidelines - this would help people understand the recommended limits better.[53][54]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The term "standard drink" was used in the United Kingdom in the first guidelines (1984) that published "safe limits" for drinking, but this was replaced by reference to units of alcohol in the 1987 guidelines and that term has been used in all subsequent UK guidance.[25]


  1. ^ a b c "Health Promotion Knowledge Gateway".
  2. ^ Furtwaengler, Nina A. F. F.; De Visser, Richard O. (2013). "Lack of international consensus in low-risk drinking guidelines". Drug and Alcohol Review. 32 (1): 11–18. doi:10.1111/j.1465-3362.2012.00475.x. PMID 22672631.
  3. ^ a b "AUDIT The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (Second Edition)" (pdf). WHO. 2001. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Kalinowski, A.; Humphreys, K. (13 April 2016). "Governmental standard drink definitions and low‐risk alcohol consumption guidelines in 37 countries". Addiction. 111 (7): 1293–8. doi:10.1111/add.13341. PMID 27073140.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac "Drinking Guidelines: General Population". IARD.org. International Alliance for Responsible Drinking. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  6. ^ Population Health Division, Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing The Australian Standard Drink Archived 2019-05-30 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Canadian Public Health Association. URL: [1]. 2006.
  8. ^ Centre for Addiction and Mental Health / Centre de toxicomanie et de santé mentale Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines
  9. ^ a b Canada, Health (17 May 2013). "Alcohol use". www.canada.ca.
  10. ^ "UVic study suggests setting minimum alcohol price could reduce deaths, hospital visits". Vancouver Island. 29 October 2020.
  11. ^ "Rethink Your Drinking | What's a Standard Drink?".
  12. ^ paihdelinkki.fi, How to use alcohol wisely
  13. ^ "Was ist ein Standardglas?" [What is a standard drink?]. Alkohol? Kenn dein Limit. (in German). Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  14. ^ Department of Health Alcohol and Health: Hong Kong Situation
  15. ^ "Landlæknisembættið, Icelandic Directorate of Health" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 July 2022. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  16. ^ Hope, A. (2009). A Standard Drink in Ireland: What strength? (PDF). Health Service Executive. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  17. ^ a b "AUDIT The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (Second Edition)" アルコール使用障害特定テスト使用マニュアル (pdf). WHO (in Japanese). p. 17. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  18. ^ "Units of alcoholic drink" 飲酒量の単位. Japan MHLW e-healthnet (in Japanese). Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  19. ^ MHLW. "tips on alcohol use control consultation – Core-AUDIT" アルコール指導のポイント Core-AUDITの章 (PDF). Japan National Institute of Public Health (in Japanese). p. 48. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  20. ^ New Zealand Food Safety Authority Archived 2008-07-04 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand (ALAC) What's in a Standard Drink
  22. ^ "Vad är ett standardglas alkohol? | alkoholhjälpen.se". alkoholhjalpen.se.
  23. ^ PRODIGY Knowledge (Department of Health) Alcohol and Sensible Drinking Archived 2006-09-25 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ a b "How long does alcohol stay in your blood?". NHS Choices. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
  25. ^ "Alcohol guidelines, Eleventh Report of Session 2010–12" (PDF). UK Parliament. House of Commons, Science and Technology Committee. 7 December 2011. p. 7. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  26. ^ "What is an alcohol unit? | Drinkaware".
  27. ^ a b c "What's a Standard Drink Measurement?". Rethinking Drinking. NIAAA. Retrieved 28 June 2024.
  28. ^ "Alcohol and Public Health: Frequently Asked Questions". CDC. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  29. ^ "Getting tight on units of alcohol". Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin. 39 (12). 1 December 2001. doi:10.1136/dtb.2001.391295. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  30. ^ a b "BBC News - Do you know how much you drink?". BBC. 4 June 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  31. ^ "Labelling of Alcoholic Beverages". Food Standards Australia New Zealand. 2022. Standard drinks. Archived from the original on 20 September 2023. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  32. ^ a b Haynes, William M., ed. (2011). CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics (92nd ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. p. 3.246. ISBN 1-4398-5511-0.
  33. ^ Mongan, Deirdre; Long, Jean (22 May 2015). "Standard drink measures throughout Europe; peoples' understanding of standard drinks and their use in drinking guidelines, alcohol surveys and labelling" (PDF). Reducing Alcohol Related Harm. p. 8. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  34. ^ 14 grams of alcohol is 0.6 US fluid ounces or ~18 mL. → Ethanol listed as 0.78945 g/mL @ 20°C (68°F), 0.6 US fl oz × 29.57 mL/US fl oz = 17.742 ml; 0.78945 g/mL × 17.742 mL = 14.006g
  35. ^ "Alcohol: the Devil is in the Details {So why won't major American wine media run %s in reviews?".}
  36. ^ The volume of the drink in litres multiplied by its percentage strength in ABV give the number of units. In this case, 0.568 × 5.2 gives 2.95; i.e., almost 3 units.
  37. ^ "What is a unit of alcohol | Alcohol and You Northern Ireland". www.alcoholandyouni.com. Retrieved 24 January 2017.[permanent dead link]
  38. ^ "Question:- "How much alcohol is there in WKD vodka blue?"". Archived from the original on 12 January 2014. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
  39. ^ "Health Effects of Alcohol". Drinkaware.co.uk. Archived from the original on 21 April 2009. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  40. ^ "Sex differences in alcohol metabolism". Women's Health Research Institute: Northwestern University.
  41. ^ Drink limits ‘useless’, The Times, 20 October 2007 Archived 7 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  42. ^ "Sensible Drinking. The Report of an Inter-Departmental Working Group" (PDF). www.ias.org.uk. Department of Health. December 1995. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 October 2022. Retrieved 23 March 2020.
  43. ^ "Government's Alcohol Strategy.Third Report of Session 2012–13" (PDF). House of Commons.Health Committee. The Stationery Office by Order of the House. 10 July 2012. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 October 2022. Retrieved 23 March 2020.
  44. ^ "Sensible drinking". NIdirect Government Services. 2013. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  45. ^ Kanis JA, Johansson H, Johnell O, et al. (July 2005). "Alcohol intake as a risk factor for fracture". Osteoporosis International. 16 (7): 737–42. doi:10.1007/s00198-004-1734-y. PMID 15455194. S2CID 10303026.
  46. ^ Ed Kuwatch. "Fast Eddie's 8/10 Method of Hand Calculating Blood Alcohol Concentration: A Simple Method For Using Widmark's Formula". Archived from the original on 2 December 2003.
  47. ^ a b Jones, Sandra C.; Gregory, Parri (May 2009). "The impact of more visible standard drink labelling on youth alcohol consumption: Helping young people drink (ir)responsibly?". Drug and Alcohol Review. 28 (3): 230–234. doi:10.1111/j.1465-3362.2008.00020.x.
  48. ^ Australia New Zealand Food Authority (26 June 2002). "7.5 Standard drink labelling for alcoholic beverages produced in New Zealand". Final Assessment Report (Inquiry - S.26) (PDF).
  49. ^ a b "Alcohol Labelling pledge". Dept of Health (UK). Archived from the original on 13 February 2015. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  50. ^ "The risks of drinking too much". nhs.uk. 3 October 2018.
  51. ^ a b "UK Alcohol Health Labelling". Portman Group. Portman Group. Archived from the original on 11 February 2015. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  52. ^ "Drinks companies achieve voluntary alcohol labelling target". Portman Group. Portman Group. Archived from the original on 13 February 2015. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  53. ^ "Drinks labels with pictures and guidelines could improve public understanding of Government recommendations". NIHR Evidence (Plain English summary). 23 June 2021. doi:10.3310/alert_46590. S2CID 242903619.
  54. ^ Gold, Natalie; Egan, Mark; Londakova, Kristina; Mottershaw, Abigail; Harper, Hugo; Burton, Robyn; Henn, Clive; Smolar, Maria; Walmsley, Matthew; Arambepola, Rohan; Watson, Robin (19 January 2021). "Effect of alcohol label designs with different pictorial representations of alcohol content and health warnings on knowledge and understanding of low‐risk drinking guidelines: a randomized controlled trial". Addiction. 116 (6): 1443–1459. doi:10.1111/add.15327. ISSN 0965-2140. PMC 8248341. PMID 33169443.

External links[edit]