How much alcohol in your drink? Stronger beverages make it tough to tell

October 15, 2013 by Brenda Goodman, Healthday Reporter
How much alcohol in your drink? stronger beverages make it tough to tell
A glass of wine at a restaurant may be 50 percent more potent than you think, experts warn.

(HealthDay)—Thanks to rising alcohol levels in wine and beer, the drinks served in bars and restaurants are often more potent than people realize, a new report shows.

As a result, even conscientious drinkers who stick to a strict one- or two-drink limit could easily find themselves beyond the legal limit for driving or accidentally consuming more alcohol than they want to for good health.

The National Alcohol Beverage Control Association released the new report online Tuesday.

The USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans say people who drink should do so in moderation, which means one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.

The guidelines define a "drink" as 12 ounces of regular beer with 5 percent alcohol, 5 ounces of wine with 12 percent alcohol and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits, which are 40 percent alcohol by volume.

Those reference sizes should shrink as the alcohol content of drinks goes up, but that often doesn't happen, said report author William Kerr, a senior scientist with the Alcohol Research Group in Emeryville, Calif.

"A lot of the wines now are 14 percent or even 15 percent commonly, and the standard 5-ounce doesn't apply to that level," Kerr said. "Really a 4-ounce glass is more appropriate."

"And we've learned from our studies of bars and restaurants that the average glass is a little bit over 6 ounces," he said.

As a result, one glass of wine may actually contain about 50 percent more alcohol than a person had bargained for.

Beer drinkers may find themselves in the same boat. A 12-ounce bottle of Bud Light beer has 4.2 percent alcohol, but the same-size bottle of Bud Light Platinum has 6 percent alcohol by volume, a nearly 50 percent increase.

"If people are thinking, 'I can have two beers a day and that's a healthy amount,' that's different if the amount is 9 percent versus 5 percent alcohol," said Dr. Gerard Moeller, director of addiction medicine at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, in Richmond.

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 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 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 out of the same 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 , 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.

Explore further: Young beer drinkers binge drink more frequently, study finds

More information: For more about standard drink sizes, visit the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Related Stories

Young beer drinkers binge drink more frequently, study finds

August 12, 2013
Just under a third of young Swiss men prefer beer when they drink alcohol, taking in at least two thirds of their alcohol consumption in the form of the beverage. Far fewer (around five percent) prefer wine. Is there an association ...

Over the limit: Size, shape and color of wine glass affect how much you pour

September 27, 2013
Pouring a glass of wine is rarely an exact measurement, especially in a social setting. While most people think of a glass as one serving, in reality it could be closer to two or three. Researchers at Iowa State and Cornell ...

Binge drinking five-plus drinks common for high school seniors, some drink more

September 16, 2013
Consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in a row is common among high school seniors, with some students engaging in extreme binge drinking of as many as 15 or more drinks, according to a study published by JAMA Pediatrics.

Let's raise a glass to, well, what's in the glass: The benefits of alcohol in stroke risk

March 8, 2012
According to new research from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), light-to-moderate alcohol consumption was associated with a lower risk of stroke in women.

EU approves medication that quenches urge to drink alcohol

February 28, 2013
The European Union has given the green light for the sale of a medication that will help quench the urge for alcoholics to drink, the companies behind the new treatment said Thursday.

Recommended for you

One in 4 women and 1 in 6 men aged 65+ will be physically disabled in Europe by 2047

October 23, 2017
By 2047 one in four women and one in six men aged 65 and above is expected to be living with a physical disability that will severely restrict everyday activities, reveals an analysis published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Protein regulates vitamin A metabolic pathways, prevents inflammation

October 23, 2017
A team of researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have discovered how uncontrolled vitamin A metabolism in the gut can cause harmful inflammation. The discovery links diet to inflammatory diseases, ...

New insights into controversial diagnosis of adolescent chronic fatigue

October 23, 2017
Crucial new research could provide some clarity around the controversy surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) in adolescents. The research by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute published ...

Do boys really have a testosterone spurt at age four?

October 23, 2017
The idea that four-year-old boys have a spurt of testosterone is often used to explain challenging behaviour at this age.

Our laws don't do enough to protect our health data

October 23, 2017
Have you ever wondered why your computer often shows you ads that seem tailor-made for your interests? The answer is big data. By combing through extremely large datasets, analysts can reveal patterns in your behavior.

New prevention exercise programme to reduce rugby injuries

October 23, 2017
A new dynamic 20-minute exercise programme, performed by rugby players before training and pre-match, could dramatically reduce injuries in the sport according to a benchmark study published today (Sunday 22 October).

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.