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Standard Drink Equivalence

Understanding drink equivalence and knowing the definition of a standard drink is an important aspect of moderate and responsible alcohol consumption.

What is a Standard Drink?

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, one standard drink or “drink equivalent” contains 0.6 ounces of ethanol (the pure alcohol that is in ALL beverage alcohol).

Each of these standard drink examples contains the same amount of alcohol:


12 oz. 5% ABV


5 oz. 12% ABV

Distilled Spirits (80 Proof)

1.5 oz. 40% ABV

Ready-to-Drink Beverages

12 oz. 5% ABV

Whether it is in distilled spirits, wine, or beer, the effects of ethanol on the body are the same. According to the CDC, “it is the amount of alcohol consumed that affects a person most, not the type.” That’s why, when it comes to drinking alcohol:

There is no beverage of moderation, only the practice of moderation.

Standard Drink Calculator

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate alcohol consumption as up to 2 drinks per day for males and up to 1 drink per day for females. But don’t assume that one can or glass equals one standard drink!

Knowing how to calculate the number of drinks per container is an important part of responsible drinking.

Expert Explanation: Standard Drinks and the Dietary Guidelines

Registered dietician Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RDN, LD explains how alcohol can be a part of a balanced lifestyle for most adults, when consumed responsibly and in moderation.

Standard Drinks in the U.S.

In the U.S., the concept of standard drinks is used by federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA); and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Additional federal agencies, such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Department of Defense (DoD), as well as state/local health and traffic safety officials (e.g., most state-issued driver’s manuals include this information), also include information on standard drinks as part of their alcohol education materials.