Know Your Limits

Know your limits

In the United States, a "standard" drink is any drink that contains about 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of "pure" alcohol. Although the drinks pictured below are different sizes, each contains approximately the same amount of alcohol and counts as a single drink.

Standard Drink Sizes


  • 12 fl oz of regular beer or wine cooler ~ about 5 percent alcohol
  • 8 fl oz of malt liquor ~ about 7 percent alcohol
  • 5 fl oz of wine ~ about 12 percent alcohol
  • 1.5 fl oz of 80-proof distilled spirits (whiskey, gin, vodka, tequila, rum, etc.) ~ about 40 percent alcohol

For different types of beer, wine, or malt liquor, the alcohol content can vary greatly. Many light beers have almost as much alcohol as regular beer (4.2 percent versus 5 percent alcohol by volume, on average) Depending on the type of spirits and the recipe, a mixed drink can actually contain two or more “standard” drinks.

“Low risk” is not “no risk.” Based on how alcohol affects you, you may need to drink less or not at all. It's safest to avoid alcohol altogether if you are

  • under the age of 21
  • pregnant or trying to become pregnant
  • planning to drive a vehicle or operate machinery
  • taking medications that interact with alcohol
  • managing a medical condition that can be made worse by drinking

Why are women's low-risk limits different from men's? 

Research shows that women start to have alcohol-related problems at lower drinking levels than men do. One reason is that, on average, women weigh less than men. In addition, alcohol disperses in body water, and pound for pound, women have less water in their bodies than men do. So after a man and woman of the same weight drink the same amount of alcohol, the woman's blood alcohol concentration will tend to be higher, putting her at greater risk for harm. 


These research-based guidelines were created by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, of the National Institutes of Health.  For some people it is not safe to drink any alcohol.