Standard Drink Sizes

Alcohol basics: let's define a drink

Decisions about substance use are personal. It’s your right and responsibility to make decisions for yourself regarding if, how often, and how much you drink. In order to make an informed decision, however, it's important you know what's a typical drink looks like and the implications of drink size and alcohol content on how it impacts your body.

Many people are surprised to learn what counts as a standard drink. A standard drink contains ½ ounce of pure alcohol and the body can metabolize about one standard drink per hour. In the United States, one "standard" drink (or one alcoholic drink equivalent) contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer: about 5% alcohol by volume (ABV)
  • 5 ounces of wine: about 12% ABV
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor (vodka, rum, tequila, etc): about 40% ABV
  • 1 ounce of 100-proof liquor: about 50% ABV

ABV or proof: what's the difference?

Both ABV and proof are used to measure how much alcohol is in a drink. ABV stands for alcohol by volume and it is the percentage of how much pure alcohol is present in a drink. Proof, on the other hand, is written in numerals. It is twice the percentage of alcohol by volume. For example, an 80 proof vodka would contain 40% alcohol by volume. Often, you will see beer and wine labels displaying ABV and liquor labels displaying proof.

Pay attention because different types of beer, wine or liquor can have very different amount of alcohol in them, so you may have more than one standard drink. For example, a standard beer contains about 5% alcohol by volume (ABV), but some craft beers can have as much as 12% ABV or more. Clearly, one 12% craft beer would have more than twice as much alcohol as a standard beer. Therefore, it should be counted as multiple standard drinks.

Average ABV range:

  • Beer: 3% - 13%
  • Wine: 8% - 14%
  • Liquor: 15% - 50%

The ABV will tell you how many ounces of actual alcohol are in the beverage. For example, if a 12-ounce bottle of beer is 5.0 percent alcohol, that means that the bottle has 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol.

The equation looks like this:

  • Ounces x decimal percentage alcohol = ounces of alcohol in the bottle or drink
  • Example: 12 (ounces) x 0.05 (5%) = 0.6 ounces

A "standard drink" is 0.6 ounces of alcohol. Standard drinks are seen on many charts relating how much you could drink before reaching legal limits. While one bottle of mainstream beer will usually be about one standard drink, it may be reached by only half or three-quarters of a bottle of craft beer or malt liquor.