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Just a Drink

A lot of confusion exists in the public understanding of what constitutes one alcoholic drink. Many people cite the popular idea of a “drink or two” after work or at the bar as being relatively harmless without understanding the relationship between drink number and alcohol content. Thus, a person might easily keep track of how many drinks he or she has had and yet not have any real grasp of how much alcohol has been ingested.

It is important to keep in mind at all times that “one standard drink” is commonly defined in the following ratios:

  • 1 12-ounce can or bottle of beer, around 5 percent alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine, around 12 percent alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, either as a shot or in a mixed drink, around 40 percent alcohol

Mixed drinks can be especially tricky to gauge. Under the above definitions, consuming two “doubles” at a bar would be the equivalent of four drinks, not two. Moreover, because liquor is so potent, the line between one drink and two or three can be very difficult to pinpoint. Also keep in mind that these ratios are fairly arbitrary, given the wide variation of alcohol content in drinks of the same category. Some beers, for instance, can contain up to 13% alcohol – as much as the typical definition of wine.

While being ignorant of these standard amounts can be convenient for justifying more drinking than can really be called “moderate,” it can also have dangerous consequences. Telling yourself that you’ve only had “two or three” drinks can encourage a false sense of security, especially given other variables. For example, coming off of work, many happy hour patrons are drinking on near-empty stomachs, which can greatly increase the effects of an alcoholic beverage.

With the legal privilege of drinking comes an implicit responsibility of knowing your limits and understanding how different forms or amounts of alcohol affect the body and mind. Enjoying a drink responsibly and in moderation starts with this sort of knowledge.

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