What Really is One Drink?

Many people are surprised to learn what counts as a drink. What a lot of people do not understand is that the amount of liquid in your glass, can, or bottle does not necessarily match up to how much alcohol is actually in your drink. Different types of beer, wine, or liquor can have very different amounts of alcohol content. For example, many light beers have almost as much alcohol as regular beer, there is about 85% as much.
Here are some other ways to put it:

  • Regular beer: 5% alcohol content
  • Some light beers: 4.2% alcohol content

That is why it’s important to know how much alcohol your drink contains. In the united states one “standard” drink contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol which is found in:

  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits which is about 40% alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12% alcohol
  • 12 ounces of regular beer, which is usually about 5% alcohol

Each beverage portrayed above represents one U.S. standard drink. The percent of pure alcohol, expressed here as alcohol by volume (alc/vol), varies within and across beverage types.

If you want to know the alcohol content of a canned or bottled beverage, start by checking the label. But not all beverages are required to list the alcohol content, so you may need to search online for a reliable source of information, such as the bottlers website. For fact sheets about how to read red wine, malt beverage, and distilled spirits labels, visit the consumer corner of the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

Although the U.S. standard drink are helpful for following health guidelines, they may not reflect customary serving sizes. In addition, while the alcohol concentrations listed are “typical” there is considerable variability in alcohol content within each type of beverage.

Why it’s important to know what a standard drink is

Alcohol consumption puts you at risk of intoxication, which can result in accidents, impaired judgment, or problems such as blacking out, passing out, or alcohol withdrawal. Each person has a different response to alcohol which is dependent on body weight, and metabolism. Drinking many drinks in a short period of time or drinking many drinking when you haven’t eaten can make you absorb more alcohol in your system, increasing its effects. It is important to recognize what a standard drink is and keep track of how much you drink.

If you regularly drink more than the recommended guidelines you may have an alcohol use disorder, and you are also at increased risk of developing health problems due to your consumption. If you are worried about your alcohol consumption, we are here to help you. Read about other tools to help you through tough times here.