What Is a Standard Drink?

Alcohol in a Standard Drink

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If you want to make sure you are not exceeding the recommended guidelines for safe alcohol consumption, it helps to know what a standard drink is. Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as up to one drink per day for women or two drinks for men.

In the United States, a standard drink is an alcoholic beverage that contains 14 grams of pure alcohol. That is 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol or about 1.2 tablespoons. Alcoholic beverages are not pure alcohol, so a standard drink is usually more than 0.6 fluid ounces.

While there is no standard size for a single shot of alcohol, most contain between 1 to 1.5 fluid ounces.

Ounces in One Standard Drink

Alcoholic beverages contain alcohol as well as water and other ingredients, and there is a difference in the alcohol content among beer, wine, and hard liquor. The equivalent of one standard drink is calculated based on the percentage of alcohol in the drink.

  • Beer and wine coolers: Beer and wine coolers are typically 5% alcohol, and a standard drink is 12 fluid ounces.
  • Cider: Cider is about 6% alcohol, and a standard drink is about 10 fluid ounces.
  • Malt liquor: Malt liquor is approximately 7% alcohol, and a standard drink is 8 to 9 fluid ounces.
  • Wine: Table wine can be 12% alcohol, making 5 fluid ounces a standard drink, however other types of wines can be more than 14.5%. Fortified wines, such as sherry or port, are stronger (about 17% alcohol), and a standard drink is 3 to 4 fluid ounces.
  • Liqueur: Liqueurs, cordials, and aperitifs are about 24% alcohol. A standard drink is 2 to 3 fluid ounces.
  • Spirits: Spirits are typically 80 proof, which means that they contain 40% alcohol. A standard drink, or a shot, of whiskey, gin, vodka, or brandy is 1.5 fluid ounces.

Sometimes, different brands of alcoholic beverages vary in their actual alcohol content. Check the label to know the exact percentage of alcohol in your drink.

Ounces Per Bottle

When you purchase beverages in their containers, rather than in a cup or glass, you will have more than one standard drink. Whether you plan to share among a group, drink by yourself, finish the bottle all at once, or drink it on several different occasions, it is helpful to know how many drinks there are in a container of alcohol.

  • Beer: There is one standard drink in a regular 12-ounce can or bottle of beer, and one and a half standard drinks in a 16-ounce "tall boy." Another container, referred to as a "40," has 40 ounces of beer, which is the equivalent of three and a half standard drinks.
  • Malt liquor: Malt liquor contains more alcohol than regular beer. A 12-ounce can or bottle of malt liquor contains one and a half standard drinks and a 40-ounce container of malt liquor contains four and a half standard drinks.
  • Wine: A 750 ml wine bottle contains at least five standard drinks. A bottle of fortified wine, such as sherry or port, contains almost eight standard drinks.

How Many Shots Are in a Fifth?

A fifth usually refers to a 750 ml or 25.4-ounce bottle. This size bottle contains just over 17 1.5-ounce shots.

Understand the Risks

In addition to knowing how much alcohol is in a standard drink, it is also important to understand the risks of alcohol consumption.

Intoxication

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 when you haven't eaten, can make you absorb more alcohol in your system, increasing its effects.

Binge Drinking

Drinking five or more drinks (for males, or four or more drinks for females) on the same occasion is defined as binge drinking. Heavy alcohol use is defined as drinking five or more drinks (for males, and four or more drinks for females) on the same occasion on five or more days within a month.

Alcohol Use Disorder

If you regularly drink more than the recommended guidelines, you may have an alcohol use disorder. You are also at increased risk of developing health problems due to your alcohol consumption.

Reducing Your Alcohol Intake

Reducing your alcohol intake will not only decrease your risk of chronic illness but can also help improve your sleep and increase your energy levels. It can even save you money.

Here are some specific strategies you can use to cut down.

  • Limit yourself to one drink
  • Choose a drink with low alcohol content
  • Try a mocktail
  • Have alcohol-free days

A Word From Verywell

Different types of drinks can contain different amounts of alcohol. Knowing what a standard drink is for every type of alcohol can help you track how much alcohol you're consuming. The more you can keep track of your drinking, the better you will understand your own drinking patterns, and thus lower your risk of immediate and long-term alcohol-related harm.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol and public health: Frequently asked questions. Updated January 15, 2020.

  2. National Institutes of Health. What's a "standard" drink?.

  3. Jung YC, Namkoong K. Alcohol: intoxication and poisoning - diagnosis and treatment. Handb Clin Neurol. 2014;125:115-121. doi:10.1016/B978-0-444-62619-6.00007-0

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Binge drinking. Updated December 30, 2019.

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