What is a Standard Drink?

What is a Standard Drink?

When most think of what is a standard drink they might assume it’s how much fills up their glass. Yet, this is a dangerous assumption that can lead to hospitalization. A standard drink is 14 grams of pure alcohol in the United States. This statistic comes directly from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). 

Therefore, drinking isn’t inherently dangerous but can be. Since alcohol is so ingrained in American society, myths around it appear as truth. Understand the facts behind alcoholic beverages to avoid a drug dependency. 

What Is a Standard Drink of Wine?

It’s Friday night. A woman sits on the couch with two companions by her side: a cat and a nice bottle of pinot noir. Her Netflix binge has just begun and the night is young. She’s already had a glass of wine and ponders if she should drink another. Ultimately, she decides she’ll finish the bottle because wine is good for her heart. Right? 

Wrong! It’s a common misconception that wine is good for your heart, says Harvard University’s health blog. To continue, they note this comes from the idea of a debunked study dubbed the French paradox. For instance, the hypothesis was that French people have superb heart health from drinking wine despite a rich food diet. 

Facts about this debunked study: 

  • Brought in the fact that the Mediterranean diet includes red wine
  • Said the red and purple grape skins helped heart health 
  • French epidemiologists produced this research in the 1980s 
  • Health effects of alcohol haven’t been studied long-term to this day 
Over Drinking

Further, scientists concluded in this study that the polyphenols in red wine specifically ward off heart disease. The participants were mice. While mice benefit from these polyphenols, the evidence it wards off heart disease in humans is dubious. Yet the myth circulated regardless, leaving what is a standard drink a day up to the drinker. 

On that note, a standard drink of wine is around five fluid ounces of table wine. In other words, this is a little over half a cup. A good way to drink wine without self-sabotage is buying wine glasses that hold this amount or less. It’s less awkward than getting out the measuring cup on Italian night. 

Alcohol Content of Wine

First off, five fluid ounces of wine equates to around 12% pure alcohol. Another way to say this is that it has 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is what is a standard drink of wine. 

Different kinds of wines vary in terms of how much alcohol is in each bottle on average: 

  • Red – 13.5% alcohol by volume 
  • White – 10% alcohol by volume 
  • Rose – 12% alcohol by volume 
  • Wine cooler – 4-6% alcohol by volume 
  • Port – 18% alcohol by volume 
  • Sweet – 10% alcohol by volume  

In summary, a little more white wine is okay to drink than port wine. However, this can lead to overdrinking if one isn’t careful. Overall, it’s better to drink less than end up in the hospital for alcohol poisoning.  

What Is a Standard Drink of Beer? 

Many cultures celebrate beer. Oktoberfest is known around the world, which revolves around drinking copious amounts of beer and eating meat. In fact, the overconsumption of beer is so normalized that teenagers can likely describe what a beer funnel and a keg stand are. 

The diversity of beers takes up a whole section in your average grocery store. So, this begs the question: what is a standard drink of beer? One might be surprised to find it’s quite different than what they learned in college. 

A standard drink of beer according to the NIAAA, is 12 fluid ounces of regular beer. For instance, this is about an average can of beer. That is if the beer has around 5% alcohol by volume per can. But, different kinds of beer have varying levels of pure alcohol in each can. 

Does Light Beer Have Less Alcohol Than Dark Beer?

In short, light beer has less alcohol than dark beer. But, there isn’t much of a difference. The  NIAAA states that, “many light beers have almost as much alcohol as regular beer – about 85% as much.” To put it differently, beer on average has a 5% alcohol content. A light beer on average has a 4.2% alcohol content. 

What is a Standard Drink?

So, that 0.08% difference is negligible. Everything in moderation is okay. The misconception that light beer has much less alcohol can end in death by alcohol poisoning. 

What Is a Standard Drink of Liquor? 

In 2010, the LMFAO song “Shots” topped the billboard for 117 weeks. Basically, every pop radio blasted a song about getting drunk to ears both young and old. It’s no secret that Americans glorify chugging shots if this wasn’t enough evidence in itself. Liquor or distilled spirits are highly potent forms of alcohol that can be quite dangerous. 

While LMFAO clearly doesn’t understand what is a standard drink of liquor, we do. A standard drink of liquor is about 1.5 fluid ounces of alcohol. Why is it such a small amount? It’s because it’s extremely concentrated. 

Despite this, sugary drinks can mask how strong a beverage with liquor has inside. If out and about, make sure to specify how much liquor should be in a drink to the bartender. Otherwise, one won’t be able to tell how much he is drinking. They are tasty just as much as they are deadly without the right amount of caution. 

How Much Is in a Shot?

A standard shot has about 40% alcohol (usually 1.5 fluid ounces of alcohol). This equates to 14 grams of pure alcohol. The amount varies across the board as some liquors contain much more alcohol than others. 

Here are popular types of liquors: 

  • Vodka 
  • Tequila 
  • Rum 
  • Gin 
  • Whiskey 
  • Absynthe 

Only drink one shot per hour and with lots of water. A person might need to drink less depending on how strong the liquor is. It goes without saying that less is always more, especially when it comes to distilled spirits. 

How Media Distorts What Is a Standard Drink

A lesser-known fact about President Bill Clinton is that he standardized the national limit of a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to drive. A level of 0.08% or higher will land someone in jail and a suspended license. A DUI is only a small repercussion of what could happen from drunk driving. 

Although this is the law nationwide, many movies romanticize drunk driving. Protagonists are often underage and end up with a slap on the wrist. Maybe a crashed car. They rarely end up dead, unlike reality. 

These movies all feature drunk driving: 

  • St. Vincent 
  • Groundhog Day 
  • Mighty Ducks 
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 
  • Rum Punch 
  • Leaving Las Vegas 
  • The 40-Year-Old Virgin 

The list above is just a small example of media that depicts drunk driving differently than the reality of it. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 30 Americans die from drunk driving every single day. In movies, a standard drink looks totally warped in comparison to the truth. 

The Difference Between Drinking Too Much and What Is a Standard Drink

Alcohol is legal, so many don’t realize the danger of drug dependency until it’s too late. The NIAAA reports that 14.1 million American adults suffered from an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2019. That’s 5.6% of the entire American adult population. Hence, alcohol can get out of control if a person doesn’t know the signs and symptoms of AUD. 

Signs and Symptoms of AUD 

 What is a standard drink legally, and what it is to an individual suffering from alcohol use disorder are two different ideas. Although, it probably didn’t start off that way. A drug dependency typically creeps up slowly. People unsuspecting can get caught in its clutches with no escape. 

Recognize these signs and symptoms of an alcohol use disorder before it’s too late: 

  • Inability to stop drinking 
  • Drinking much more than intended 
  • Engaging in risky activities while under the influence of alcohol 
  • Building up a tolerance to alcohol 
  • Drinking to mask a mental or physical disorder 
  • Blacking out from alcohol use 
  • Hurting relationships because of alcohol use
  • Inability to keep a job because of drinking 
  • Receiving a DUI or another legal repercussion as a result of alcohol consumption 
  • Feeling withdrawal symptoms when not drinking (ie: irritability, itching, drowsiness, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, etc.)

To conclude, this list isn’t comprehensive. To put it simply, if drinking interferes with someone’s ability to live a happy and healthy life, they have AUD. A drug dependency isn’t easy to kick. Most will need to seek an addiction treatment program to regain a sense of normalcy. 

Every person that suffers from AUD has a group of people that care for them deeply. If someone finds themself worried that a loved one has AUD, they should talk to them about it. Firstly, make sure they are sober. Then, ask them to meet in person at a specific time to discuss worries and the dangers of a lasting drug dependency. It’s an uncomfortable conversation, but there is no downside.  

Sana Lake Can Teach You What Is a Standard Drink and What Is Addiction 

It’s difficult to accept that you or a loved one suffers from AUD. You may have forgotten what is a standard drink and what it’s like to live a normal life. An alcohol-free life is hard to achieve when you have a drug dependency. But, you’re not alone. 

Sana Lake Recovery offers personalized programs for alcohol use disorder recovery in Dittmer, Missouri. We factor every part of a person’s life into their treatment to ensure lasting success. Contact us now if you or a loved one needs help with recovering now. 

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Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.