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It also matters whether you're drinking a standard 12-ounce bottle, or downing draft beer in pints, which are 16 ounces each.

Flavored malt beverages and newer flavored beers are muddying the waters even further, the report showed. These drinks, which include brands such as Bacardi Silver, Smirnoff Ice, Mike's Hard Lemonade and Four Loko, range from 5 percent to 12 percent alcohol.

Some of the more controversial varieties, like Colt 45's fruit-flavored Blast, which is 12 percent alcohol, are not only more potent, but also packaged in 23.5-ounce cans, making one container the equivalent of an entire bottle of a similarly strong wine.

Taken together, these examples suggest that Americans need better guidance about healthy drinking, said Robert Pandina, director of the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, in Piscataway, N.J.

"The dietary guidelines aren't very useful," said Pandina, who was not involved in the report. "They don't parallel the drinking habits of the American public."

So what can you do if you're trying to moderate the amount of alcohol you drink?

In some situations, careful label reading and measuring will help ensure you don't overdo it.

"For home drinks, you should know what you're drinking," report author Kerr said. "You don't have to measure every time, but if you're going to be drinking out of the same wine glass, measure a couple of times so you know what a standard drink looks like."

"[At bars and restaurants], you should assume that poured drinks are more like one-and-a-half standard drinks" and maybe even more for mixed cocktails such as martinis and Long Island iced teas, he said.

If you're ordering beer, a little homework ahead of time can help you find out how strong your preferred brand is.

Then the trick is sticking to the limit you set for yourself.

"There's an old Native American expression, 'A man takes a drink. A drink takes a drink. Then the drink takes the man," Pandina said. The more you've had to drink, the easier it is to lose track of how much you've had.

Once you've hit your max, switch to water or something nonalcoholic to make sure you stay in control.

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