Alcohol Equivalence

The alcohol content of standard drinks of beer, dinner wine, or distilled spirits (either straight or in a mixed drink) are equivalent. Alcohol equivalence refers to the fact that standard drinks are equivalent in their alcohol content, each containing six-tenths of one ounce of alcohol.1 They are all the same to a breathalyzer.

The health benefits associated with drinking in moderation are also similar for beer, wine and spirits. The primary factor associated with health and longevity appears to be the alcohol itself.

Knowing about this alcohol equivalence can help us drink sensibly and in moderation. In the words of the American Dietetic Association, "Knowing the facts of beverage alcohol equivalence is a crucial aspect of responsible drinking."2 For example, people won't be fooled by the myth that drinking "hard liquor" leads more quickly to intoxication than other alcoholic beverages.

Understanding alcohol equivalence prevents us from being fooled into thinking that "just having a few of beers" before driving is safer than having a few glasses of dinner wine or a few shots of whiskey or Martinis. Being aware of alcohol equivalence can help us avoid driving while impaired or intoxicated. That can prevent us from having trouble with the law, but much more important, it can prevent injuries and save lives.

Knowing about alcohol equivalence also helps us understand that there is no drink of moderation, only behaviors of moderation.

In a poll of physicians, 95% said it is important that people understand the alcohol equivalence of standard drinks and 98% believe it important for doctors to communicate this and other information about alcohol consumption.

The research was conducted by the American Medical Women's Association, the oldest and largest multi-specialty association of women physicians in the world.

Dr. Raymond Scaletter, former Chairman (i.e., head or president) of the American Medical Association says "Incorporating standard drink information into routine examinations will help to reinforce moderation in those who drink and to identify problems associated with alcohol abuse." The medical leader says that it's important for doctors to "reinforce moderate and responsible drinking."3

Tips for Drinking in Moderation


A glass of white or red wine, a bottle of beer, and a shot of whiskey or other distilled spirits all contain equivalent amounts of alcohol and are they same to a Breathalyzer. A standard drink is:



  • 1. The American Dietetic Association points out that the facts of beverage alcohol equivalence "are emphasized by the federal government and numerous public health organizations including Nation Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Departments of Transportation (DOT) and Health and Human Services (HSS), National Consumers League, National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)" (American Dietetic Association, Nutrition Fact Sheet: Moderate Consumption of Distilled Spirits and Other Beverage Alcohol in an Adult Diet. Chicago, Illinois: American Dietetic Association, 2001, p.1). Alcohol equivalence is also recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Surgeon General's Office, the U.S. Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Department of Education (DOE), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) (formerly the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BASTF).
  • 2. American Dietetic Association. Nutrition Fact Sheet: Moderate Consumption of Distilled Spirits and other Beverage Alcohol in an Adult Diet. Chicago, IL: American dietetic Association, 2001, p. 1.
  • 3. American Medical Women's Association. With Dietary Guidelines Announcement Tomorrow, New Survey Shows that Majority of Doctors Talk to Their Patients About Alcohol; Physicians Agree More Standard Drink Education Needed. American Medical Women's Association press release, January 11, 2005.


  • Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Serving Facts and Information on Alcohol Beverages. Washington, DC: Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, 2004. Describes alcohol equivalence.
  • Alcohol Awareness Month. Congressional Record, April 28, 1998, p. 6898. Discusses the importance of teaching alcohol equivalence.
  • Alcohol equivalence. Webster's Online Dictionary website.
  • American Dietetic Association. Adult Beverage Consumption: Making Responsible Drinking Choices. Washington, DC: American Dietetic Association, 2008. Describes alcohol equivalence.
  • Bickel, Karl. Cops, criminals and community. Frederick News Post, December 29, 2010. Emphasizes importance of understanding alcohol equivalence.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol and Public Health. Frequently Asked Questions. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010. Explains concept of alcohol equivalence.
  • DUI Information Organization. DUI Glossary: Alcohol Equivalence. DUI Information Organization website.
  • Hemphill, Thomas A. Harmonizing alcohol ads. Regulation, 1998 (Spring), 55-62. Discusses significance of alcohol equivalence.
  • Mothers Against Drinking and Driving. MADD's Positions on Responsible Marketing and Service. MADD website, 2010. MADD describes and supports the teaching of alcohol equivalence.
  • National Consumers League. NCL challenges myth that some alcoholic beverages are 'safer' and 'less potent.' Washington, DC: National Consumers League, press release, July 16, 2008. Explains alcohol equivalence and its importance.
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Helping Patients Who Drink Too Much. Washington, DC: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2004. Describes alcohol equivalence.
  • Snowden, Rebecca V. Heavy Alcohol Use May Increase Prostate Cancer Risk. American Cancer Society website, July 14, 2009. Describes alcohol equivalence.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders. Washington, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Discusses alcohol equivalence.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2005, 6th edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005. Chapter nine, Alcoholic Beverages, Describes alcohol equivalence.
  • Wikipedia. Alcohol Equivalence. Although not a reliable source, Wikipedia defines and describes alcohol equivalence correctly.

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