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College Alcohol 101: How Big Is 1 Drink?

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

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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."

It wasn't that the students were totally clueless. Some asked if they should pour "regular drinks" or "college-student drinks," says White.

"They were surprised at their own behavior, not the issue in general."

Drink size and concentration of alcohol both matter, says White.

"It can't just be done by ounces," he says. "Who in their right mind is doing math in a bar all night? Alcohol and math do not go together. I drink; I'm not a neo-prohibitionist."

White favors putting serving-size information on alcoholic drinks. "It would be a piece of cake to put on the side of a wine bottle demarcations between servings," he says. "A source of frustration for me is to walk down aisle 10 [at the grocery store] and grape juice bottles have serving sizes. Walk down aisle 11, and wine does not have serving sizes."

Alcohol makers do include warning labels about safe, lawful, and responsible use of alcohol. But serving information is not required on packaging.

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