1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

What Is a Standard Drink?


Updated May 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What is a Standard Drink
Henrik Sorensen Collection/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Question: What Is a Standard Drink?
Answer: To keep yourself at low risk of developing an alcohol use disorder, you need to drink less than five standard drinks a day if you are male and less than four if you are female. But what exactly is a standard drink?

In the United States, a standard drink is any alcoholic beverage that contains 0.6 fluid ounces (14 grams) of pure alcohol. That equals about 1.2 tablespoons of pure alcohol.

One Standard Drink

The following are generally considered the equivalent of one standard drink:
  • 12 oz. of beer or wine cooler
  • 8-9 oz. of malt liquor
  • 5 oz. of table wine
  • 3-4 oz. of fortified wine (sherry or port)
  • 2-3 oz. of liqueur, cordial or apertif
  • 1.5 oz. of brandy
  • 1.5 oz. of spirits (whiskey, gin, vodka, etc.)
The above examples are approximate because many brands and types of alcoholic beverages vary in actual alcohol content. Check the label for percentage of alcohol content.

How Many 'Drinks' Are in a Bottle?

Unless you are in a bar or restaurant, you are unlikely to purchase your alcohol by the drink, but instead will purchase in larger containers. Here are the number of drinks contained in some popular containers:

Beer - There is one standard drink in a regular 12 oz. beer, but there are 1 1/2 standard drinks in a 16 oz. "tall boy." The new popular "40s," which are made up of 40 oz. of beer, contain 3 1/2 standard drinks.

Malt Liquor - By definition, malt liquor contains more alcohol than regular beer. A 12 oz. can or bottle of malt liquor contains 1 1/2 standard drinks, not one drink. Likewise, a 40 oz. container of malt liquor contains 4 1/2 standard drinks. In other words, one 40 oz. can of malt liquor exceeds the daily guidelines for low-risk drinking.

Wine - No, one bottle of wine is not one drink. The usual 750 ml wine bottle contains at least 5 standard drinks. A bottle of "fortified wine," such as sherry or port, contains almost 8 standard drinks.

Hard Liquor - A standard drink contains only 1.5 oz. of 80-proof liquor. So, that means a half pint of hard liquor contains 4 1/2 drinks and a pint contains 8 1/2 drinks. A fifth (750 ml) contains 17 standard drinks.


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "What's a Standard Drink?" Updated 2005.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Alcoholism
  4. Alcoholism 101
  5. What Is a Standard Drink

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.