Home Drinking: More Alcohol per Drink?

Size of Alcoholic Drinks Varies Greatly When Poured at Home

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 14, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 14, 2005 -- Pouring yourself a drink at home may give you more alcohol than you bargained for.

A new study shows alcoholic drinks poured at home -- particularly wines and spirits -- vary greatly in size and often contain considerably more than the "standard" amount of alcohol.

"Clearly there is much variation in what constitutes 'a drink' in the U.S. population," says Lorraine Midanik, PhD, in a news release. Midanik is a professor in the school of social welfare at the University of California at Berkeley.

In the U.S., a standard drink is defined as the equivalent of 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. That generally corresponds to:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of spirits

Professional bartenders use measures to ensure that the same amount of beer, wine, or spirits goes into each drink. But researchers say people at home are often unaware of how much alcohol is in their drink.

In addition, serving glasses at home have grown in size in recent years, as has the alcohol content of many wines.

"Individual drinkers should be concerned with varying drink alcohol content because the consumption of nonstandard drinks affects their ability to keep track of how much alcohol they have consumed and therefore their ability to conform to safe drinking guidelines and driving laws," says researcher William C. Kerr in a news release. Kerr is a scientist with the Alcohol Research Group at the University of California, San Francisco.

How Much Alcohol Is in That Glass?

In the study, researchers contacted 310 adults who participated in the 2000 National Alcohol Survey, which included specific questions about alcoholic beverages drunk at home.

The participants were given a beaker to measure each alcoholic beverage they prepared at home. Researchers gathered information about the brand and type of each beverage to identify the alcohol content.

The results showed that the average alcohol content of drinks served at home was 0.67 ounces overall, nearly 12% larger than the standard 0.6 ounces.

The greatest discrepancies in alcohol content were found in drinks containing wine and spirits. The average alcohol content of a glass of wine was 0.66 ounces, and for spirits the average alcohol content was nearly 0.9 ounces.

"The real-world implications of these findings are that we are continuously underestimating alcohol use in the U.S. and within specific populations with our traditional survey methodology," says Midanik.

Kerr says the findings show many people are pouring themselves as well as their friends and family larger than standard drinks.

"Given that safe-drink messages are based on a specific amount of alcohol in a drink, 0.6 ounces, they might want to become more aware of the percentage of alcohol in the brands of beer, wine and spirits they choose, perhaps adjusting their drink size accordingly," says Kerr. "At minimum, they should be aware of larger-than-standard drinks."

Show Sources

SOURCES: Kerr, W. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, November 2005. News release, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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