If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 988 and press 1, or Text 838255. You can also call 911.

Defining a Drink and How It Impacts People Differently

What is Considered a “Standard” Drink?

If you drink alcohol, you may consider the number of drinks you’ve had to be the number of glasses of wine or bottles of beer you have had. The actual way to determine how many drinks you’ve had is by how much alcohol is in each glass.

In the United States, one “standard” drink (what counts as one alcoholic drink) contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, which can be found in:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits

If you already knew this, that’s wonderful, but keep reading! You might learn something new. If you didn’t know the answer, you are not alone. Many people don’t know what counts as “a drink”.

Important Factors to Consider when Drinking

The amount of alcohol contained in a drink – commonly measured by Alcohol by Volume (ABV) – can vary widely depending on what type of alcoholic beverage you are having. The alcohol content in different types of beer, wine or malt liquor can be different, so you can’t always tell how much alcohol is in your drink based on the amount of liquid in your glass, can or bottle. It’s important to know how much alcohol your drink contains by considering the size of the drink, the type(s) of alcohol used in the drink and the percent alcohol contained in each of the type(s) of alcohol.

For example, “regular” beers (beers that are mass-produced) typically have around 5% alcohol while many other beers, like “craft” beers (beers made with real malts and higher-quality ingredients), can have about twice as much alcohol. Keep in mind, drinking a light beer may not mean you are consuming significantly less alcohol. Many light beers contain around 4% alcohol content – almost as much alcohol as regular beer.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) provides some great examples in the illustration below of one standard drink that contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol:

Source: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/what-standard-drink

Factors Impacting How the Same Amount of Alcohol may Impact Individuals Differently and the Rate at which a Person Surpasses the Legal Drinking Limit

There are many different factors that can affect how alcohol is absorbed and processed in the body. This affects a person’s level and rate of intoxication. How fast a person’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) – measured by the weight of the alcohol in a certain volume of blood – rises varies based on several factors, including:

  • Number of Drinks. The more you drink, the higher your BAC.
  • How Fast you Drink. When alcohol is consumed quickly, you will reach a higher BAC than when consumed over a longer time.
  • Altitude: At high altitudes, alcohol effects are almost two times as strong until the person becomes used to the elevation.
  • Carbonation: Carbonated (fizzy) drinks increase the rate of alcohol absorption.
  • Dehydration: Being dehydrated can make your liver less efficient at processing alcohol.
  • Fatigue: Like dehydration, fatigue makes your liver less efficient at processing alcohol.
  • Food Content in the Stomach: Having food in your stomach can help slow down how fast alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream and slow down the rate of intoxication.
  • Gender: Women tend to experience the effects of alcohol quicker and longer than men. Biological differences in body structure and chemistry lead most women to absorb more alcohol and take longer to metabolize it. Women generally have less water and more body fat per pound of body weight than men. Alcohol does not go into fat cells as easily as other cells, so more alcohol remains in the blood of women.
  • Mood: Emotions, such as stress, can impact your digestive system and how your body processes alcohol.
  • Tolerance: The body’s ability to adapt to the effects of alcohol. Some people have a naturally high tolerance while others may have a lower tolerance. Some may develop high tolerance through habitual drinking.
  • Use of Other Medication/Drugs: Some medications or drugs can have dangerous side effects when combined with alcohol, ranging from discomfort to life-threatening reactions.
  • Weight: Generally, the less you weigh, the more you may be affected by alcohol. The more you weigh, the more water that is present in your body. This water dilutes the alcohol and lowers the BAC.

At a BAC of .08 grams of alcohol per deciliter (g/dL) of blood, car crash risk increases greatly. Because of this risk, it is illegal in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to drive with a BAC of .08 or higher, except in Utah where the BAC limit is .05.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 988 and press 1, or Text 838255. You can also call 911.