The Alcohol Percentage Contents of Various Beverages


Consuming alcohol is legal in the majority of the U.S. for adults ages 21 and older. Alcohol is a beverage made from fermented grains or fruit, and it has been part of human civilization for at least 10,000 years. There are many kinds of alcohol from many cultures across the globe, although the types of alcohol are standardized to beer, wine, and liquor in the United States to help structure laws around drinking.

There are several subcategories to beer, wine, and liquor, and these subcategories help to define and regulate the production of specific alcoholic beverages. Understanding the specifics of alcohol types and content helps manufacturers, retail salespeople, bartenders, and consumers determine how much alcohol is in one serving, and therefore how much is consumed.

Drinking may be legal for many adults. But even legal substances are associated with physical dependence and addiction. At American Addiction Centers, we provide medical detox, treatment, and ongoing care. If you believe you have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), reach out to one of our admissions navigators at 973-862-4820 for the help that you need today.

Infographic of difference between proof, alcohol percentage, and alcohol contentAlcohol Percentage in Drinks

  • Vodka | ABV: 40-95%
  • Gin | ABV: 36-50%
  • Rum | ABV: 36-50%
  • Whiskey | ABV: 36-50%
  • Tequila | ABV: 50-51%
  • Liqueurs | ABV: 15%
  • Fortified Wine | ABV: 16-24%
  • Unfortified Wine | ABV: 14-16%
  • Beer | ABV: 4-8%
  • Malt Beverage | ABV: 15%

How Alcohol Servings Are Measured

The type of alcohol consumed in alcoholic beverages is ethanol, typically produced by yeast during the fermentation process. While there are other types of alcohol – such as isopropyl or butyl alcohol – these are not safe for human consumption.

The amount of alcohol found in beer, wine, and spirits can vary a little based on how high the proof is, which is measured in the U.S. with alcohol by volume (ABV) percentages. Proof for alcohol is generally twice the percentage of alcohol listed. Serving sizes have been standardized for legal reasons to contain roughly 0.6 ounces of alcohol per serving.

Bottles of different types of alcohol at a bar

Serving measurements include:

  • 5 ounces of wine per glass, 24 proof or 12 percent ABV
  • 12 ounces of beer per serving, 10 proof or 5 percent ABV
  • 1.5 ounces of liquor or spirits per shot, 80 proof or 40 percent ABV

Mixed drinks, cocktails, wine coolers, punch, and other types of combined alcoholic beverages are measured in legal terms using the above servings, although servers themselves may not be as careful about pouring.

For brewing purposes, the average alcohol content of beer is generally between 3 percent and 7 percent ABV; wine alcohol content ranges between 9 percent and 14 percent ABV, unless it is fortified; and spirits begin at around 20 percent ABV, but some states allow up to 95 percent ABV.

Types of Alcohol

Although the broad legal categories for alcohol are beer, wine, and spirits, there are many subcategories, and the ABV of each can vary. A few examples of types of alcohol, along with their ABV, are listed below.

Pouring whiskey alcohol into glass of ice

Liquor or Spirits

  • Vodka: Made from the same fermentation process as beer or wine, with the added step of distilling to increase the strength of the drink, vodka is typically made from grains like wheat, sorghum, and corn, although Russian vodka is allegedly made from potatoes. Vodka has an ABV starting around 40 percent, but it can range as high as 95 percent.
  • Gin: This type of liquor starts with a neutral distilled spirit, to which juniper berries and other aromatic botanicals are added. It is clear and has an ABV of 36-50 percent.
  • Rum: Rum is fermented sugarcane, molasses, beet sugar, or other type of non-fruit sugar. It is then distilled to remove any sediment. It legally has 36-50 percent ABV.
  • Whiskey: Subdivided into scotch, bourbon, and Irish and Canadian whiskeys, these types of whiskey are aged in oak barrels that give them a unique caramel color. ABV can range from 36 percent to 50 percent ABV, depending on how long it has aged.
  • Tequila: Tequila is a Central and South American beverage made from fermented agave, which originally had some hallucinogenic properties in addition to being alcoholic. Tequila sold in the US is not allowed to have any additional drugs in it besides alcohol. The ABV is typically around 50-51 percent.
  • Liqueurs: These beverages are distilled spirits combined with fruit, cream, sugar, or herbs to create a potent but flavorful beverage. Liqueurs include triple sec, amaretto, schnapps, and Sambuca. They may not have more than 15 percent ABV, on average.

Wine being poured into a wine glass

Wine

  • Fortified wine: This is a type of fruit and/or honey alcohol that, either due to the addition of brandy or because it has been fermented long enough, has an ABV of 16-24 percent.
  • Unfortified wine: This is a standard fruit or honey alcohol, such as mead or ice wine, with 16 percent or less ABV. The average ABV for wine is around 14 percent, although some, such as port, may be a little stronger. States may have individual mandates on how much sugar wine may contain as well.

Different types of beer and malt beer on the table

Beer

  • Beer: This includes lagers, pilsners, flavored beers, and ale. The ABV on beers ranges greatly, depending on the brewing process. Generally, the ABV is between 4 percent and 8 percent, with 5-6 percent being the standard for most beers in the United States. Some craft beers nowadays are as high as 12 percent.
  • Malt beverage: While this category can include some types of beer, the ABV can range up to 15 percent, so it includes beers with additional alcohol added.

It is important for alcohol percentages to be understood by those who sell and consume alcohol. Problem drinking, a broad category that includes alcohol use disorders, is a major problem in the United States.

Alcohol Use Disorder in the United States

Alcohol use disorder involves compulsive drinking to the point where a person is unable to stop despite the harm it causes. People who have problems related to alcohol may feel helpless or unable to stop drinking.

Alcohol use disorder is more often referred to as alcoholism by the non-medical community. Those suffering from alcohol use disorder are often called alcoholics.

People suffering from alcohol use disorder may experience:

  • Problems controlling drinking.
  • Being preoccupied with when they will get the next drink
  • Craving and urges to drink.
  • Continued use of alcohol even when it causes problems.
  • Increased tolerance levels which leads to drinking more to get the same effect.
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, shaking, nausea when they don’t drink.
  • Reduced social activity.
  • Mood changes and inappropriate behaviors.
  • Reduced ability to be responsible at home or work.
  • Drinking in unsafe situations.
  • Inability to realize they are putting themselves or others in dangerous situations.

Excessive drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning, hospitalization, car accidents, and other injuries.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six American adults binge drinks about four times per month.The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) recommends adults drink no more than seven drinks per week.

In 2012 about 7.2% of American adults (17 million individuals) reported to the NIAA that they were struggling with an alcohol use disorder.

Problem drinking can lead to both short-term and long-term health problems. This includes:

    • Memory loss.
    • Financial instability.
    • Reduced quality of life.
    • Worsening mental health.
    • Liver damage.
    • Cancer.
    • Alcohol poisoning.
    • Death.

Alcohol Abuse Treatment Programs

It is important to get help as soon as possible. If someone you love is an alcoholic, don’t encourage them to try and stop drinking cold turkey or by themselves. This can be medically dangerous and sometimes deadly. Instead, encourage them to detox with medical supervision, such as in a rehabilitation program. Here, they can safely work toward sobriety and recovery.

These programs can help in the following ways:

  • A physician may help ease withdrawal with small doses of prescription medications.
  • Therapy at a rehabilitation program can help to:
    • Rebuild relationships.
    • Uncover the root causes of the person’s drinking.
    • Develop better coping mechanisms for stress.
    • Help identify and treat co-occurring disorders such as depression and anxiety.
  • Offer inpatient and outpatient options to best meet the needs of the individual.

The important thing to remember is that help is available. Sunrise House Treatment Center could be the right choice for you or your loved one when trying to detox from alcohol and recover from alcohol abuse. You can learn more about our facility on our website, or you can give our Admissions Navigators a call at 973-862-4820 to learn more about our personalized treatment approach.



About The Contributor

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers

The editorial staff of Sunrise House is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More


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