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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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College Alcohol 101: How Big Is 1 Drink?

Many College Students -- and Probably Other Adults -- Don’t Know

Portion Distortion

Or, put it this way. "The best analogy in the nonalcoholic realm is if you ask people how many bagels they have each day," says White.

"Let's say it's one. But in reality, bagel size has gone through the roof. They say they're having one bagel, but they're really having four standard bagels," says White.

College students aren't the only ones who might overdo alcohol without knowing it. He and his colleagues note that a middle-aged woman might have a f. glass of wine for heart benefits but pour way more than what's recommended without knowing it.

People buy many alcoholic drinks in containers that hold multiple servings. For example, wine is typically sold in 25 ounce bottles that have five standard drinks.

College students often get a bad rap, says White. "That's really unfortunate," he tells WebMD.

"We as adults have failed the students. For all the money and hype and attention to the college drinking issue, we have failed to teach students what a drink is. I think it's pretty pathetic," he says.

"We need to back up a little bit and get on the same page about what a dose is," says White, pointing out that alcohol is a drug.

"How can you have a dialogue about safe vs. risky use if we don't all have a single concept of what a dose is?" He adds that teaching students about doses is "not to suggest in any way that they should be drinking." Most students in the study were under the legal drinking age and said they drank alcohol anyway.

"Underage drinkers have a tendency to drink more heavily and more quickly than of-age drinkers," says White.

Better Grasp About Beer

Study participants were better at gauging serving sizes of beer than wine or mixed drinks, says White. "Students who drink beer tend to be more accurate. Males are the ones who tend to drink beer; males tended to be more accurate because of that."

Women, who favored mixed drinks and shots, had "more of a discrepancy," says White. "In a way, this is a gender issue."

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