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What is Considered a Standard Drink?

In the U.S., a standard drink is any drink that consists of 14 grams of pure alcohol. This is equal to about 0.6 fluid ounces or 1.2 tablespoons. 14 grams of alcohol is found in 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. 

Different types and brands of alcoholic beverages vary in alcohol content.

The effects of alcohol on the body depend on your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The liver can only process approximately one drink per hour. In most cases, one drink is:

  • 12 fl oz of beer
  • 5 fl oz of wine
  • 1.5 fl oz of whiskey or cognac
  • 1.5 fl oz of an 80-proof distilled spirit

Although the standard drink amounts are useful for following health guidelines, they don’t always reflect common serving sizes. Likewise, while the alcohol concentrations listed are considered typical, there is significant variability in alcohol content within each kind of alcoholic beverage. 

The alcohol content can differ vastly for different types of beer, cider, wine, or liquor. Some differences are smaller than many would expect.

Many light beers contain almost as much alcohol as regular beers do. This is about 85 percent as much. On average, this is equal to 4.2 percent of alcohol content compared to 5.0 percent by volume.

If you are interested in learning the alcohol content in a canned or bottled drink, check the label. Not all beverages must note the alcohol content, so customers may have to search online for a reliable source. This can include the bottler’s website.


Types of Alcoholic Beverages

Alcoholic drinks contain alcohol, water, and other ingredients. There is a vast difference in the alcohol content of drinks, depending on the type of beverage. Common types of alcoholic beverages include beer, wine, and hard liquor. 

Sometimes, various brands of alcoholic drinks may have different alcohol contents. Check the label of each alcoholic beverage to understand the exact percentage of alcohol in the drink.

Below are the types of alcoholic beverages available and the alcohol percentage they typically consist of. The equivalent of one standard drink is determined by the percentage of alcohol in the beverage. 

Beer and wine coolers

Beer and wine coolers usually consist of around five percent alcohol. A standard drink is 12 fluid ounces.


Cider is typically about six percent alcohol. A standard drink is around ten fluid ounces.

Malt liquor

Malt liquor is around seven percent alcohol. A standard drink is approximately eight to nine fluid ounces.


Table wine is typically 12 percent alcohol, making five fluid ounces a standard drink. 

Fortified wines, including sherry and port, are more potent at around 17 percent alcohol. A standard glass of wine is three to four fluid ounces.


Liqueurs, cordials, and aperitifs are usually quite potent at around 24 percent alcohol. A standard drink is two to three fluid ounces.


Spirits are usually 80 proof, meaning they are 40% alcohol. A standard drink or shot of a spirit is 1.5 fluid ounces. Spirits include whiskey, gin, vodka, and brandy.

Is 1 Shot a Standard Drink?

In the United States, a 1.5 fl oz shot of brandy or cognac is considered a standard drink. A 1.5 fl oz shot of an 80-proof distilled spirit is also considered a standard drink.

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Drinking in Moderation

Alcohol consumption puts drinkers at risk of intoxication. This can lead to:

  • Accidents
  • Impaired judgment
  • Blackouts
  • Passing out
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • A hangover the following day

This is why abstinence or moderate alcohol consumption is recommended.

Each individual has a different response to drinking alcohol. This is dependent on body weight and metabolism.

Drinking many drinks in a short time or drinking on an empty stomach can increase the effects of alcohol. This is because your body absorbs more alcohol in a short period.

Due to the harmful effects of heavy drinking and alcohol abuse, it’s essential to recognize what a standard drink is. This can help you keep track of how much alcohol you consume.

Drinking five or more drinks for men or four or more drinks for women within two hours is considered binge drinking. Binge drinking is common among college students.

Consuming five or more drinks for men or four or more drinks for women in a single session on five or more days in a month is considered heavy drinking.

If you regularly drink more than the recommended guidelines, you may have an alcohol abuse problem. This leads to an increased risk of developing health issues.

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What Is a Standard Drink?, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/practitioner/PocketGuide/pocket_guide2.htm

What's a "standard" drink?, Rethinking Drinking, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/how-much-is-too-much/what-counts-as-a-drink/whats-a-standard-drink.aspx

Young-chul Jung, Kee Namkoong, Alcohol intoxication and poisoning – diagnosis and treatment, Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 2014, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780444626196000070?via%3Dihub

Binge drinking, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm

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