How Much Alcohol is in Your Favorite Drink? Standard Drinks Explained

How Much Alcohol is in Your Favorite Drink? Standard Drinks Explained

How much alcohol is in your favorite drink? Standard drinks have the same amount of alcohol by volume but the volume varies greatly by type of alcohol.

Standard drinks – alcohol by volume. What do these terms mean and why do they matter?

“I only had a couple of drinks,” or “We each had a drink and then split a bottle of wine.” These kinds of statements are common when someone gets into trouble as a result of how much they’ve had to drink. Sometimes the speaker is absolutely baffled at being pulled over for a DUI or having a hangover in the morning because they are sure they’d only had a few.

One of the contributing factors to these situations is the lack of awareness of what’s in “a” drink. Each of the following quantities equals 1 standard drink:

  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 12 ounces of regular beer
  • 1.5 ounces (a shot) of “hard liquor,” such as 80-proof scotch, gin, vodka or bourbon
  • 8-9 ounces of malt liquor (typically ale or lager beers)

Why the varied amounts? Because each liquid quantity contains the same amount of alcohol. This is where the term “standard drink” comes from — a standard measurement of ethyl alcohol by volume of alcohol type.

Why is this so important to understand? Because ethyl alcohol is not processed like other foods and liquids. It is metabolized (processed) by enzymes in the liver. It takes the liver about one hour (often up to two depending on other variables, such as weight, gender, having eaten, stage of brain development or medications) to metabolize the ethyl alcohol chemicals in one standard drink. So if a person consumes 3-4 drinks, it’ll be roughly 3-4 hours before their body is clear of all alcohol. While alcohol waits its turn to be processed by the liver, it is “sitting” in body organs, like the brain. It’s this sitting in the brain that changes how a person thinks and behaves because the ethyl alcohol chemicals interrupt neural networks and therefore normal brain functioning.

Often common drinks or beverage containers people serve and/or consume at parties or restaurants contain more than one standard drink as listed below. Not understanding this can cause a person to drink more than they’d planned.

  • a margarita = 2-3 standard drinks
  • a martini = 1.5-2 standard drinks
  • a “stiff” scotch on the rocks = 2-3 standard drinks
  • a bottle of table wine = 5 standard drinks.

Awareness is half the battle.

Try measuring the above quantities in your favorite shaped drink glass or common-shaped restaurant glasses to get the visual of what “a” drink looks like (5 ounces of wine is a lot smaller than you may think). When you’re at a banquet or party, decline refills of your glass until you’ve finished so that you know how much you are really drinking.

Understanding what’s in “a” drink can help you avoid the consequences of over-drinking and know when to decline a ride from someone who’s “only had a couple.”

To find out how much alcohol is in your favorite drink, check out NIAAA’s Cocktail Content Calculator.

Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author | Speaker | Consultant | Founder at
Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and 11 books, including "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!," "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," and "Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions." She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, and founder of She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. In 2015, she founded SHD Prevention, providing training and consulting to companies, public agencies, unions, nonprofits and other entities to address the workplace impacts of employee secondhand drinking and alcohol misuse.
Lisa Frederiksen

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  1. You are right, actually intake of alcohol becomes addiction when a person craves for consumption of alcohol & is unable to limit the drink and this is called alcohol addiction. There are few alcohol treatment centers that provide complete alcohol addiction treatment.