Amount of Alcohol in a Standard Alcoholic 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.

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

One Standard Drink

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

  • Beer/wine coolers: Beer and wine coolers are typically five percent alcohol. A standard drink is 12 fluid ounces.
  • Malt liquor: Malt liquor is approximately 7 percent alcohol, and a standard drink is eight to nine fluid ounces.
  • Cider: Cider is about 6 percent alcohol, and a standard drink is about 10 fluid ounces.
  • Wine: Table wine is 12 percent alcohol, making five fluid ounces a standard drink of wine. Fortified wines, such as sherry or port, are stronger, and a standard drink is three to four fluid ounces.
  • Spirits and liqueur: Spirits are typically 80 proof, which means that they contain 40 percent alcohol, while liqueur typically contains less alcohol. A standard drink of whiskey, gin, vodka, or brandy is one and a half fluid ounces, while a standard drink of liqueur, cordial or aperitif is two to three fluid ounces. Spirits and liqueur are often served in smaller glasses than wine or beer. A shot is typically filled to about one and a half ounces, which is the equivalent of a standard drink.

Sometimes, different brands of alcoholic beverages vary in their actual alcohol content, so, while the examples are pretty close to what you should expect, you should check the label to know the exact percentage of alcohol content.

Standard Drinks per Bottle

When you purchase beverages in their containers, rather than in a cup or glass, you will have more than one standard drink in a container. 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 there are one and a half standard drinks in a 16-ounce "tall boy." Another container, referred to as a "40s," is made up of 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.
  • Hard Liquor: A half pint of hard liquor contains four and a half drinks, and one pint contains eight and a half drinks. A fifth (750 ml) contains 17 standard drinks.

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 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.

Drinking five or more drinks for males, and 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 each of five or more days within a month.

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 alcohol consumption.

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Article Sources
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  1. National Institutes of Health. What's a "standard" drink?

  2. 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

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fact Sheets - Binge Drinking. Updated October 24, 2018.

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