Alcohol Percentage Content in Drinks: Comparing ABV by Drink Type

3 min read · 6 sections

Alcohol content and percentage can vary widely depending on the drink. Different types of alcoholic beverages have their own alcohol by volume (ABV), which means that there are different percentages of alcohol per the volume of liquid. Accordingly, the number of alcoholic beverages you consume will have a direct effect on the way your body responds.1

Understanding ABV is vital to being able to make informed decisions concerning alcohol intake and its possible effects on your health and behavior. Alcohol can cause negative consequences by interfering with the way your brain operates, making it more difficult to think clearly, make good decisions, and remember information accurately. In worst case scenarios, these effects of alcohol can result in job loss, injury, or worse.2 Making responsible decisions when it comes to alcohol consumption begins by knowing how much alcohol is in a given drink.

Alcohol Percentage by Drink Type

The main types of alcoholic beverages are beer, wine, and liquor. There are also subcategories within each of these types that may have slightly varying percentages of alcohol. This highlights the importance of reading labels and considering how a particular alcoholic beverage may affect you:

  • Beer: Alcohol Percentage usually ranges between 4–8%
    • Craft beers: typically have higher alcohol percentages, at 8–12% and higher
  • Fortified Wine: Alcohol Percentage 16–24%
  • Unfortified Wine: Alcohol Percentage 14–16%
  • Malt beverage: Alcohol Percentage 15%
  • Champagne: Alcohol Percentage 12.5%
  • Vodka: Alcohol Percentage 40–95%
  • Gin: Alcohol Percentage 36–50%
  • Tequila: Alcohol Percentage 50–51%
  • Rum: Alcohol Percentage 36–50%
  • Whiskey (including Bourbon, Canadian whiskey, Irish whiskey, and Scotch): Alcohol Percentage 36–50%
  • Liqueur: Alcohol Percentage 15%
  • Hard seltzer: Alcohol Percentage 4–12%
    • White Claw hard seltzer: 5%; lower-calorie versions: 3.7%; seltzer surge: 8%
    • Truly hard seltzers: 5% ABV; Truly Extra: 8%
    • Jose Cuervo Playmar (tequila-based seltzers): 4.5%
    • High Noon (vodka-based seltzers): 4.5%
    • Bud Light seltzers: 5%; Premium Seltzers: 8%
    • Natural Light seltzers: 6%
    • Four Loko hard seltzers: 12%
  • Kombucha: Alcohol Percentage 0.5–2.5%

Alcohol percentage varies widely by drink. Beers, light hard seltzers, and kombucha tend to have lower alcohol percentages. Conversely, vodka, tequila, rum and whiskey can have much higher alcohol percentages.

How Are Servings of Alcohol Measured?

ABV is a worldwide standard for measuring alcohol content in an alcoholic beverage. It may surprise you to learn that the measurement of alcohol in a “standard drink” can vary by country. This can make it difficult to estimate the amount of alcohol being consumed.3

In the U.S., for example, one standard drink is defined as any beverage that contains 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol. In Australia, it’s 10 grams. And in the UK, a standard drink is 8 grams.3 This confusion could lead to unintended and serious consequences, so it’s important to understand the local measurements of alcohol before drinking.4

ABV vs. Proof: What Is the Difference?

Sometimes you’ll see both the ABV and “Proof” on the label of a bottle of liquors like vodka. The two measures indicate the percentage of alcohol in the liquid. The proof of the liquor is exactly double that of the ABV. For example, 80 proof vodka is equal to 40% alcohol, and 110 proof vodka is equal to 55% alcohol.

How Much Is Too Much?

While an occasional drink with food or during social occasions may not adversely affect your health and behavior, excessive drinking can cause a difference.5

Some short-term effects of excessive alcohol use may include:6

  • Out-of-control emotions, anger, depression, and other mood changes.
  • Dizziness, vertigo, and poor balance.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Alterations in energy level, from restlessness and exhilaration to stupor and disorientation.

What Are the Beginning Signs of an Alcohol Problem?

A casual drinking habit evolving into an alcohol problem can be a gradual and sometimes insidious process, which is why it’s important to make periodic and honest assessments. Inviting feedback from family and friends can help recognize potential problems.7

Excessive alcohol use is often accompanied by behavioral changes. Some warning signs of alcoholism are:7

  • Failing to fulfill obligations at home, school, or work.
  • Drinking more alcoholic beverages than planned, despite negative effects on relationships and health.
  • Engaging in risky behavior while drinking, like drunk driving.
  • Lying or being secretive about drinking.
  • Becoming socially isolated or losing interest in activities once enjoyed.
  • Drinking alcohol at all times of day.
  • Interrupted sleep patterns.
  • Rapid weight gain or loss.
  • Facial puffiness and redness.
  • Glazed eyes.

People who consistently drink alcohol excessively in spite of adverse social, occupational, or health consequences can develop alcoholism. According to a 2019 national survey, 14.1 million adults ages ≥18 had AUD, as well as an estimated 414,000 adolescents ages 12-17.7 Diagnosing AUD promptly can keep the disorder from getting worse, and it can save lives and relationships. Using criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), an AUD diagnosis can be determined to be mild, moderate, or severe. These criteria are as follows:

  • The person wishes to stop excessive alcohol consumption but hasn’t succeeded.
  • They spend long periods drinking and suffering the aftereffects of alcohol use, like a hangover or a black out.
  • They’ve missed commitments and have had difficulties in performing duties at home, work, or school.
  • They continue to drink despite it causing problems with family or loved ones.
  • The aftereffects of excessive alcohol consumption keep the person from properly attending to household duties and children, or result in difficulties performing on the job or at school.
  • They have discontinued or limited involvement in activities to choose to drink excessively instead.
  • They increase their chance of being injured because of excessive drinking.
  • They continue to drink even though they feel sad or distressed, or it affects an already existing health problem.
  • They continue to drink despite having memory and functional problems that result in consequences at home, work, or school.
  • They continue to increase their consumption when tolerance is reached.

The presence of two or more symptoms of these criteria signifies mild AUD, sometimes referred to as problem drinking. When a person has four to five criteria, the AUD diagnosis is considered moderate. People who have 6 or more of the criteria are diagnosed with severe AUD.9

How Can I Find Help for an Alcohol Problem?

The NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator helps you find the right treatment for you or your loved one. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association (SAMHSA) has a national helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), which is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish.

Before entering a treatment program, you’ll need to verify your insurance coverages. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), passed in 2010, is an increasingly popular way of paying for addiction treatment. Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and what may work for one person may not be a good fit for someone else. Simply understanding the different options can be an important first step. Some treatment options may include:

  • Detoxification, which usually takes from two to seven days, and may include medications to prevent withdrawal symptoms. This treatment usually takes place at an inpatient treatment center or a hospital.
  • Individual or group therapy, which provides education about alcohol dependency and the support needed during recovery. Couples or family therapy may be beneficial.
  • Support groups, which help you manage relapses and learn to cope with changes in your lifestyle.
  • Residential treatment, which is often required for those with severe AUD. It involves staying at a residential treatment center and may include individual and group therapy, support groups, and participation by family members.

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