Alcohol Content of Drinks in US Dropped During Last Half Century

Research suggests that the average alcohol content of beer, wine and distilled spirits dropped significantly between 1950 and 2002.

Average Alcohol Content of Beverages in Percent by Volume
Beverage Year % Change
1950 2002
Wine 16.75% 11.45% -31.64%
Distilled Spirits 42.71% 36.93% -13.53%
Beer 5.02% 4.65% -7.37%

The study, supported by the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) was conducted by Dr. William Kerr and colleagues and is published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Standard Drinks and Alcohol Equivalence

Learn what they are and why they'’re very important.

Although the proportion of wine, distilled spirits and beer are different, standard drinks of each contain comparable amounts of alcohol -- about six-tenths of one ounce of alcohol. Standard drink refers to a 12 ounce can or bottle of beer, one-and one-half ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits (straight or in a mixed drink), or five ounces of wine. To a breathalyzer they’re all the same.


  • Kerr, William C., Greenfield, T. K., and Tujague, J. Estimates of the mean alcohol concentration of the spirits, wine and beer sold in the US and per capita consumption: 1950 to 2002. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2006, 30(9), 1583-1591.

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