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Drinking Habits

Alcohol Units: Learn Whats’s in Your Glass!

July 10, 2023
11 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 10, 2023
11 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 10, 2023
11 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 10, 2023
11 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 10, 2023
11 min read

There are countless systems of measurement out there. Like universal languages, they help us communicate quantities such as length, weight, time, and so much more. From the everyday inches, seconds, and grams, to scientific ones like parsecs and pascals, these units let us share precise information.

The same is true for alcohol, which is also measured in “units” — and it’s a good idea to keep an eye on them! What is a unit of alcohol, and how much is a unit of alcohol in terms of what’s actually in our glass? For example, how much alcohol is in a shot? And how many ml are in a shot? And what about specific types — for instance, how much alcohol is in vodka? There are lots of questions that come up — let’s dig deeper and find out!

Alcohol Measurements: What Is a Unit of Alcohol

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You might be thinking, “Alcohol unit? Sounds awfully scientific!” But the concept of alcohol measurement is simpler than it appears. Basically, it's a way to measure how much pure alcohol — ethanol — is present in our drink. This standard measure allows us to compare different types of drinks, even though they might come in different volumes.

In the United States, one standard drink or alcohol unit contains about 14 grams — 0.6 ounces — of pure alcohol, which is roughly the amount of alcohol that the average human liver can metabolize in one hour. Now, that doesn't sound like much, but it adds up, especially when our “one drink” is actually a giant goblet of wine!

What Is “14 Units of Alcohol” in Practice?

So how much is 14 grams in actual drinks?

Beer alcohol percentage is usually around 5 percent, so one standard drink equals about 12 ounces. How much is a pint? About 16 ounces. So, your standard pint of beer (16 ounces) is actually more than one alcohol unit.

For the wine drinkers out there, a standard drink is around 5 ounces of wine, clocking in at about 12 percent alcohol. If you pour yourself a large glass of wine — let's say 9 ounces — you've already consumed nearly two standard drinks.

How much alcohol is in a shot? When it comes to distilled spirits — vodka, rum, tequila, and whiskey, which are around 49% alcohol — a standard shot is about 1.5 ounces, containing one 14-gram alcohol unit. This means a typical cocktail with 3 ounces of hard liquor adds up to two standard drinks. And how many ml in a shot? Around 37 to 44.

Of course, these are approximations. Alcohol content can vary based on the brand, brewing, and preparation method.

Calculating Alcohol Units

Why Bother Counting?

Why do we need to count these units, anyway? It’s just like keeping an eye on the slices of pizza we’ve consumed — it’s a friendly tap on the shoulder, a little nudge saying, "hey, that's probably enough for now."

Keeping track of the alcohol units we consume is all about empowering us to make informed decisions about our drinking habits, particularly if we’re looking to cut back or quit. Remember, the body can only process a certain amount of alcohol per hour — generally one unit — and going beyond this can lead to health issues and heightened risk of accidents.

Regularly consuming more than the recommended limit (generally 2 standard drinks per day for men and 1 for women) increases the risk of liver disease, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer. And, of course, being mindful of the units can help us track our drinking patterns, set concrete goals, make more informed decisions, and gauge our progress if we’re trying to cut back.

Measuring Your Intake

Some drinks have the number of units on the bottle or can, just like nutritional information on our favorite snacks. But since glasses often deviate from standard sizes — particularly when you're out at a bar or restaurant — tracking your units can get a bit tricky. That large glass of wine? Likely more than one standard drink. The pint of craft beer with a higher alcohol percentage? Probably more than one, too.

There are many tools and apps available today that can help you keep track of your alcohol units. By entering the type and quantity of drink, you can calculate the number of units you've consumed, making it easier to monitor and manage your alcohol intake.

Some popular apps include "Drinkaware: Track and Calculate Units," "Try Dry: The Dry January App," and "AlcoDroid Alcohol Tracker." These apps can help you understand alcohol guidelines and visualize your consumption patterns, set goals, and track your progress towards them.

Pacing Yourself

When you’re mindful of your alcohol units, you can pace yourself to avoid overindulging. Don’t forget to alternate your drinks with water or other non-alcoholic beverages to slow down your drinking, stay hydrated, and reduce the chances of waking up with a hangover!

The Next Steps

Alright! Now that we've armed you with knowledge, here are some concrete steps to put it into practice:

  • Know your drinks. Familiarize yourself with the standard drink sizes and the alcohol content of your favorite beverages. This will help you calculate how many units you're consuming.

    It's important to remember that not all drinks are created equal. Beers, wines, and spirits can vary significantly in their alcohol content. A light beer might only be 4% alcohol, while a high-gravity craft beer could be upwards of 10%. A typical table wine might be around 12% alcohol, but a fortified wine like port could be closer to 20%. Always check the labels when possible to get a better sense of how much alcohol you're consuming.
  • Monitor your intake. Use mobile apps or a simple diary to track the number of units you drink.
  • Keep alcohol guidelines in mind. The U.S. alcohol guidelines, as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, define moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
  • Pace and space. Sip slowly and try to have some non-alcoholic beverages between your alcoholic ones.
  • Set personal limits. One of the best ways to manage your alcohol intake is to set personal limits and stick to them. Decide in advance how many drinks you'll have, and pace yourself.
  • Choose alcohol-free days. Declare certain days of the week alcohol-free. It helps break the cycle of daily drinking.
  • Seek support. If you're finding it hard to reduce your alcohol intake, don't hesitate to seek professional help.

Remember, the goal is to understand how alcohol works, be mindful of our consumption, and make choices that align with our health goals. So, whether it's a Sunday barbecue, a night out with friends, or a cozy movie night with the fam, we stay on top of our game.

Ready To Keep Those Units From Adding Up?

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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