Alcohol Equivalence: Beer, Wine & Distilled Spirits (Liquor)

Alcohol equivalence means that standard drinks of beer, dinner wine and spirits (liquor) have the same amount of pure alcohol. Thus, each has six-tenths of an ounce of pure alcohol.1 A breath tester can’t tell one from another.


I.   Importance of Alcohol Equivalence

II.  Drinking in Moderation

III. Resources

But why is understanding alcohol equivalence important?

I. Importance of Alcohol Equivalence

The health benefits of moderate drinking are similar for beer, wine and spirits. The primary factor for health and long life is the alcohol itself.

Knowing about equivalence can help us drink sensibly and in moderation. The American Dietetic Association has this to say. “Knowing the facts of beverage alcohol equivalence is a crucial aspect of responsible drinking.”2 In general, people believe the myth that drinking “hard liquor” leads more quickly to intoxication.

alcohol equivalence
Standard Drinks

Knowing alcohol equivalence is important. We know that having two beers before driving is no safer than having two glasses of wine. Or two shots of whiskey or two Martinis.

Being aware of drink equivalence can help us avoid driving while impaired. 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. There are only behaviors of moderation.

Doctors have long known this. In a poll of doctors, 95% said it is important that people understand alcohol equivalence. Even more, 98%, believe it important for doctors to explain this to their patients.3

II. Drinking in Moderation Tips

    • Pace your drinks. Most people can have one drink per hour.
    • Eat while drinking. This helps keep your BAC from rising as fast.
    • Sip and savor your drinks. That is, don’t gulp them.
    • Avoid drinking games.
    • Accept a drink only when it fits into your pace of drinking.
    • Alternate non-alcoholic with alcoholic drinks.
    • Skip a drink now and then.
    • Be careful with punches and drinks in containers of strange size. That’s because it’s hard to space them well.
    • Of course, follow medical advice about drinking with meds.

III. Resources: Alcohol Equivalence


1.  Federal agencies recognize alcohol equivalence. They include DOT, FDA, DOE, HSS, NIAAA, CDC, USDA, NHTSA, TTB, and the Surg Gen Office.

2. Am Dietetic Assn. Moderate Consumption of Distilled Spirits and other Beverage Alcohol in an Adult Diet. Chicago: ADA, p. 1.

3. Am Med Women’s Assn.