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Drinking Habits

What Is the Purpose of a Standard Drink Measurement?

June 27, 2024
19 min read
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 27, 2024
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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.
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Reframe Content Team
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Sip Savvy: The Benefits of Understanding Standard Drink Measurements

  • We often hear of standard drink measurements, but we may not know exactly what they means. A standard drink measurement is a conventional way to measure alcohol, but it has many other benefits. 
  • We can avoid adverse effects from excessive alcohol consumption by correctly tracking the number of drinks we’re having.
  • Reframe can help us understand more about alcohol to consume more mindfully!

Ever ordered a drink at the bar and wondered if the bartender forgot the alcohol? Or perhaps you’ve taken a sip and feel like you’ve just swallowed fire? With the varying percentages of alcohol in different alcoholic beverages, the concept of a standard drink helps us understand exactly how much alcohol is in our glass, no matter the drink.

We often think of alcohol in terms of a shot of liquor or a glass of wine, but these subjective measurements vary widely. That’s where standard drink measurements come in — our trusty tools for consistency. Let’s explore what a standard drink is and why it's so important. 

What Is a Standard Drink?

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A standard drink is a unit of measurement for alcohol that represents a set amount of pure alcohol in a beverage. In the U.S., a standard drink is 0.6 oz or 14 g  of pure alcohol. It was developed as a way to provide a uniform measure for alcoholic drinks. Before this, a “drink” was whatever the most common vessel for the type of alcohol was served in. For example, wine, which is most commonly served in a glass, could have been as small as a champagne flute or as massive as a goblet. 

The phrase “standard drink” was first used in a pamphlet titled That’s the Limit, printed in 1984 by the UK’s Education Council. It referred to a standard drink as a single alcohol unit (8 g of pure alcohol), which was the guideline for safe drinking for men and women. It aimed to educate the public about living a healthy lifestyle. As we began to recognize the harm of excessive drinking, the measurement became more common and was adopted by notable health organizations around the world. 

Today, although a standard drink is a more standardized measurement for alcohol, it differs slightly between countries. If a standard drink isn’t so standard, then what’s the point?

What’s the Purpose of a Standard Drink Measurement?

The main purpose of a standard drink is to have a more uniform way of measuring alcohol. Can you imagine if the measurement we use today for length — a foot — were still based on the length of a person’s foot (as it was thousands of years ago)? Aside from a more consistent measurement, a standard drink has many other purposes.

  • Booze benchmark. Having an idea of how many standard drinks we consume helps us make sure we don’t exceed our personal limits.
  • Drinking guidelines. A standard drink measurement is crucial for developing uniform responsible drinking guidelines. This gives us a better understanding of limiting our alcohol intake and reducing the risk of alcohol-related harm.
  • Alcohol analysis. A standard measurement helps ensure consistency in research and epidemiological studies on alcohol use. Consistent data on alcohol consumption facilitates comparisons in studies on alcohol use and related harm.

As we can see, standard drink measurements were created to increase awareness about alcohol content and to create guidelines for safe consumption. Despite the benefits, the number of standard drinks isn’t usually printed on the label. To give us a better idea of how much we’re consuming, let’s take a look at standard drink sizes for common alcoholic beverages.

Standard Drinks in Common Alcoholic Beverages

Since a standard drink is the amount of pure alcohol a drink contains, it differs between alcoholic beverages, as they contain varying percentages of alcohol by volume (ABV). A drink with a lower ABV means we need more of it to reach 14 g of pure alcohol, whereas a drink with a higher ABV means we’ll need less. For example, one standard drink of beer is 12 oz, but one standard drink of vodka is 1.5 oz. With the varying percentages of alcohol within different drinks, it can be difficult to determine appropriate serving sizes. Let’s break it down by common alcoholic beverages.

Standard Drink of Beer

One standard drink of beer is equivalent to 12 oz, which is the size of a regular soda can. This is based on a beer with an average ABV of 5%. However, the ABV of beer can range from light beers at 3.5% ABV to craft beers that exceed 8% ABV. A lighter beer will be less than a standard drink and higher ABV beers will be more. 

It’s important to note that common serving vessels for beer aren’t always equivalent to a standard drink. For example, beer is frequently served in a pint, which holds 20 oz — roughly 1.3 standard drinks. A pint of beer that is 8% ABV is slightly above 2 standard drinks.

Standard Drink of Malt Liquor

Malt liquor is a stronger, usually sweetened form of beer. Flavored malt beverages usually range from 5% to 9% ABV — making a standard drink about 8 oz or 1 cup at an average of 7.5% ABV.

Malt beverages vary widely. Think anything from Twisted Tea to amped-up beers like Olde English 800. When calculating the number of standard drinks in a malt liquor, it’s best not to estimate due to the significant variation.

Standard Drink of Wine

One standard drink is equivalent to 5 oz of wine with an average ABV of 12%. Wine can be tricky as it’s poured out of the bottle into a glass that can vary in size. A standard (or not-so-standard) wine glass can hold anywhere from 8 to 22 oz. Adding to the complexity, the alcohol content in wine can range from 5% to 25%.

The sipping nature of wine can also make it difficult to keep track of how much we’ve had. By the end of sip and paint night, we may have had 2 to 3 glasses of different-sized pours. One way standard drinks of wine are measured is by the bottle. A 750-mL, standard bottle of wine is roughly 5 standard drinks.

Standard Drink of Liqueur

Liqueur, not to be confused with liquor, is a distilled spirit that is sweetened with sugars and flavorings — commonly served with or after dessert. Since liqueur contains additives, the ABV ranges from 15% to 35% — lower than many other distilled spirits.

A standard drink of liqueur is 2 oz with an average ABV of 25%. By itself, they're usually served in shooters ranging from 2 to 3 oz, which is meant to be consumed in one quick gulp. Liqueurs are also added for flavorings in cocktails — adding to the alcohol content in mixed drinks.

Standard Drink of Distilled Spirits

Distilled spirits or hard liquor are alcoholic beverages made from fermented grains and other plants that have been distilled or purified to increase the alcohol concentration. Most spirits range from 35% to 45% ABV but can go above even 80%. 

One standard drink of a distilled spirit with an average ABV of 40% is 1.5 oz. This is equivalent to a standard shot glass. The metal hourglass-looking tool, or jigger, that bartenders use to make drinks, is standardized to measure 1.5 oz or one shot on the bigger side and .75 oz or a half shot on the smaller end.

Standard Drink of Hard Cider

Hard cider is made from fermented apple juice. Think Angry Orchard or a spiked Martinelli’s. A standard drink of hard cider is 10 oz with an average ABV of 6%.

Hard cider is popular in the UK and is used to toast special occasions and celebrate the holidays. It’s usually served in a wine glass, which can range widely in size. Many of us have that one family member (or multiple) that seems to keep topping up everyone’s glass, but if we’re trying to prevent Aunt Martha from oversharing embarrassing childhood stories or are trying to make sure everyone gets home safely, we should try to stick to one standard drink or 1.25 cups of hard cider. 

Now that we have a more general idea of standard drink sizes, how can we calculate a more exact amount?

Calculating Standard Drinks

Alcoholic beverages, even within alcoholic beverage categories, can differ in alcohol content. To calculate the exact number of standard drinks, we can use this formula:

Volume (in mL) x (%ABV / 100) / 17.05 = number of standard drinks

Let’s use a bottle of Yellowtail Cabernet as an example:

750 mL x (13.5 / 100) / 17.05 = 5.938 or approximately 6 standard drinks

Calculating the standard drinks in a mixed drink can be slightly more complicated, as there can be various types of alcohol in various amounts. Luckily, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has developed a handy Cocktail Calculator that can do the math for us.

Moderate Drinking Guidelines: Putting Standard Drink Measurements into Practice

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provides advice on what we should eat and drink to promote good health and prevent disease, recommends that adults over the legal drinking age not drink alcohol, or follow moderate consumption guidelines if choosing to drink. 

According to the CDC, moderate alcohol consumption is:

  • 2 standard drinks or less in a day for men
  • 1 standard drink or less in a day for women

Having the standardized drink measurement helps us ensure we aren’t underestimating our alcohol consumption, as excessive drinking is associated with many negative health effects. By practicing moderate consumption, we can effectively reduce the risk of adverse effects. Standardized drink measurements set us up for success, but what else can we do to limit harm from drinking alcohol?

Beyond Standard Drink Measurements: Practicing Mindful Consumption

Understanding standard drink measurements and using them to increase our awareness of the effects and asociated harms of alcohol are ways we can practice mindful alcohol consumption. We can implement other strategies to help us develop a healthier relationship with alcohol.

  • Calculate drinks. Online tools can help us calculate the standard drinks in even the most complex mixed drinks in no time. Calculating the number of standard drinks increases our awareness of our alcohol consumption and prevents us from underestimating how much we’re drinking.
  • Set limits. Now that we have a more standardized form of measurement, we can set accurate and realistic limits that align with our goals. 
  • Track consumption. In addition to setting limits, we can effectively track our consumption over time. This can help us identify any negative drinking patterns and work towards more long-term goals for developing a healthy relationship with alcohol. 
  • Quit or cut back. Quitting or cutting back on alcohol reduces its negative effects on our body. Identify triggers from tracking and set goals to avoid or work through them. Setting accountability partners can also help support us on our journey. 
  • Seek support. If we’re concerned about our drinking habits, we can explore different treatment options that fit our needs. Try alcohol reduction apps like Reframe or more traditional treatment programs such as peer support groups or cognitive behavioral therapy (C

These mindful drinking strategies help us put standard drink measurements to good use. We can effectively measure and keep track of our alcohol consumption — benefitting our overall health and well-being.

Pouring With Precision

Standard drink measurements are more than just numbers on a chart — they’re a helpful tool in the quest for mindful consumption. Whether we’re navigating a night out, mixing our own cocktail, or looking to quit or cut back, understanding standard drink measurements can be our tool against excessive drinking. So, the next time we pour a glass, we’ll know exactly what we're getting into. And if you’re still worried about standard drink measurements, pour yourself a mocktail and avoid the calculating altogether! Cheers to intentional choices and healthier habits that our future selves will thank us for!

Summary FAQs:

1. How much pure alcohol is in one standard drink?

One standard drink is 0.6 fl oz or 14 g of pure alcohol.

2. How many standard drinks are typically in one bottle of wine?

A standard 750-mL bottle of wine that is 12% ABV is about 5 standard drinks. 

3. How many ounces in a glass of wine is typical?

A standard wine pour is 5 oz, but a wine glass can hold anywhere from 8 oz to 22 oz — making it difficult to know how much we’re drinking without measuring the number of standard drinks.

4. What are the benefits of tracking standard drinks?

Some of the benefits of tracking standard drinks include making sure we don’t overconsume and helping us follow health guidelines for consumption.

5. How can I calculate standard drinks for cocktails?

Online calculator tools can help us calculate standard drinks in mixed drinks. Without them, we can add up the standard drinks of each alcohol component separately. 

6. Is one standard drink the same in every country?

No. The amount of pure alcohol in a standard drink varies between countries.

Protect Your Brain and Drink Less With Reframe!

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 today!

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