Do you consider alcohol content when you have a drink? If you don’t, you should.
Alcohol content isn’t just important for brewers and bartenders to understand. When you consume alcoholic drinks, it’s important to know the alcohol content you’re ingesting. If you don’t, you could end up with a DUI – and never even know you were over the limit.
Did you know that a single cocktail can actually have the alcohol content of multiple “drinks”? When you don’t know about the alcohol levels of your drinks, you could be putting yourself in harm’s way. In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know. Keep reading to learn how alcohol content knowledge can prevent DUIs.
Why Alcohol Content Matters
Alcohol, although legal, is a drug. It impairs your reaction time, coordination, judgment, movement, and vision. This, of course, is part of what makes it fun — and also the reason it’s illegal to drive under the influence.
The legal limit for blood alcohol content is .08, which means you can have a little bit of alcohol before you drive. However, it’s important to know exactly how much you’re getting in each drink; which is why understanding alcohol content is so valuable. However, even if you’re under the legal limit, you can still be charged with a DUI if your driving appears impaired.
BAC, or blood alcohol content, measures the amount of alcohol absorbed into your bloodstream. In addition to how much “booze” is in your drinks, the rate of consumption affects your BAC. The faster you drink, the higher your BAC will be.
When alcohol accumulates in your system faster than you can process it, you get drunk. People can metabolize about one drink every hour, but it also depends on the individual. Women tend to have less muscle mass than men, so they absorb alcohol faster. Body fat levels, weight, and height all affect alcohol absorption. Certain foods can make you absorb alcohol more slowly.
A common misconception is that factors like mixing alcohol will get you drunk faster. However, the only thing that genuinely affects how drunk you get is how many drinks you have, by alcohol volume. And you can’t sober up faster by eating, drinking water, or taking a cold shower. Your body simply needs time to process the alcohol.
A single “drink” contains .54 ounces of ethyl alcohol, which is the substance that gets you intoxicated. However, the number of ounces it takes to make a single drink varies, because of the alcohol by volume.
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What is ABV?
Alcohol by volume (ABV) is the percentage of alcohol in your drink. In the U.S., alcohol manufacturers are legally required to print the alcohol content of on the label.
This percentage tells you how much of the beverage is alcohol, and how much of it is non-alcoholic liquid, like water. The higher the ABV, the more alcohol your drink contains.
ABV levels can vary greatly in beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages. For example, some kinds of beer have enough alcohol in them to get you drunk, even if you just drink one. That’s why knowing the ABV of what you’re drinking is essential.
Beer Alcohol Content
Throughout the beer brewing process, the brewers sample it to see how much of the sugar the yeast is converting to alcohol. This allows them to make adjustments and end up with the desired ABV.
Beer ABVs range widely. The lowest end is around two to three percent, while some strong beers can have an ABV of ten percent or more. Most beers average about 4.5 percent. A single “drink” is typically considered to be 12 ounces of beer.
Low-ABV beers can be labeled “session” beers since you can drink several of them in one session without getting too drunk. However, this label can be misleading: many craft breweries make so-called session beers with surprisingly high alcohol contents.
The type of beer affects the ABV: lagers tend to be lower in alcohol content than Belgian tripels, for example. However, style of beer isn’t a reliable measurement — to know what you’re drinking, you always need to read the label.
Wine Alcohol Content
Wine almost always has a higher ABV than beer. Most wines average around 11 to 12 percent ABV, and a single “drink” of wine is about five ounces.
However, like beer, the wine alcohol content can vary greatly. Wines on the low end have about five percent ABV, while on the high end they can reach 23 percent. Many factors in the winemaking process affect these numbers, including climate during grape growing, quality level, and wine style.
More about wine.
Wines with a lower alcohol content generally have a lighter body and a sweeter taste. The sweetness comes from the grape sugar that’s left over instead of being turned into alcohol. If the winemakers let more of the sugar convert to alcohol, they end up with a stronger wine that’s less sweet.
The sweeter the beginning grapes are the more potential ABV that wine has. Sweet grapes can be used to make strong wines, but when winemakers want even more alcohol, they make fortified wine.
Fortified wine combines wine with a neutral spirit, such as grape brandy, to raise the ABV. However, wine with surprisingly high ABVs can also be made naturally, without fortification.
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Liquor Alcohol Content
While wine and beer alcohol labels are in ABV, liquor alcohol content labels are in “proof.” Although this may sound confusing, it’s actually pretty simple: the proof is twice what the alcohol content is. For example, liquor with a proof of 80 is actually 40 percent alcohol by volume.
The term “proof” originated hundreds of years ago. The exact origin story isn’t clear, but some people believe sailors and pirates coined the term. Back then, people combined gunpowder with liquor to test or “prove” how much alcohol was in it. If the mixture flared up or exploded when lit on fire, the alcohol was “above proof.”
Today, the term proof means different things in different countries. If you’re drinking while traveling it’s important to research what that country’s proof standards are. However, in the U.S., proof is always twice what the ABV is. Most countries also legally require that the ABV is printed on the bottle.
A standard drink of liquor is usually 1.5 ounces (a jigger) at 80-proof, or 40 percent alcohol. Many liquors are 80-proof, but not all. Some go as high as 190-proof, which is 95 percent ABV.
How to Use a BAC Calculator
With so much variation in the alcohol content of drinks, knowing exactly what you’re consuming is essential. If you want to be clear on how much you’ve had, a BAC calculator is a useful tool.
The alcoholic content of your drinks affects the amount of alcohol absorbed into your bloodstream. A BAC calculator can give you a helpful estimate of how much alcohol is in your blood. However, these calculators are never perfectly accurate. Other factors like metabolism, body fat percentage, and medications also have an effect on your BAC that can’t be measured with a calculator.
Since the legal driving limit is .08 BAC, a calculator can help you see whether or not you’re safe to drive. However, it’s still not a good idea to drive if you’re only a little bit under the limit, or if you feel intoxicated. Remember that you can get a DUI under the legal limit if you appear to be driving inebriated.
With a BAC calculator, you’ll enter information such as how many ounces of alcohol you’ve consumed, your drinks’ ABV, your weight, and the number of hours you’ve been drinking. You can find BAC calculators online, or keep a BAC calculator app on your phone.
Using Your Alcohol Content Knowledge
This knowledge will help keep you safe from DUIs. If you don’t know exactly what you’re drinking, a single drink could actually contain multiple drinks’ worth of alcohol, thanks to high ABVs.
Whether you drink beer, wine, liquor, or something else, it’s always a good idea to check the ABV. Different styles have different ABVs, so you can never assume that you know how much you’re drinking until you read the label.
When you understand alcohol content, you can better understand the process of getting drunk. This knowledge combined with a trusty BAC calculator is a great tool for preventing DUIs.
If you’re looking for a good online BAC calculator, try ours here.
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