Responsible Drinking

What is a Drink?

If you choose to drink, it is important that you know what you are consuming. The alcohol found in most alcoholic drinks like beer, wine, and liquor is ethyl alcohol (ethanol). Most drinks do not contain pure alcohol because it can be deadly. Only a few ounces of pure alcohol can quickly raise your blood alcohol level.

A standard drink is one that contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol - or 1.2 tablespoons. Beer, wine, and liquor all have different concentrations of pure alcohol in them. Beer has the least percentage of ethanol concentrations (4 to 6 percent) and liquor has the most (40 to 90 percent). The chart below shows what counts as a standard drink for beer, malt liquor, table wine, and hard liquor. Knowing how many drinks you are consuming is the foundation to responsible drinking.

  Standard Drink Equivalents Approximate Number of Standard Drinks In
Beer or Cooler 12 oz.
An image of a 12oz. glass
~5% alcohol

12 oz. = 1
16 oz. = 1.3
22 oz. = 2
40 oz. = 3.3

Malt Liquor 8-9 oz.
An image of a 8-9 oz. glass
~7% alcohol

12 oz. = 1.5
16 oz. = 2
22 oz. = 2.5
40 oz. = 4.5

Table Wine 5 oz.
An image of a 5 oz. glass.
~12% alcohol
a 750 mL (25 oz.) bottle = 5
80-Proof Spirits (Hard Liquor) 1.5 oz.
An image of a 1.5 oz glass

a mixed drink = 1 or more*
a pint (16 oz.) = 11
a fifth (25 oz.) = 17
1.75 L (59 oz.) = 39

*Depending on factors such as the type of spirits and the recipe, one mixed drink can contain from one to three or more standard drinks.

Your Body and Alcohol

Have you ever wondered why alcohol makes people act the way they do under the influence? Alcohol is a drug, and like all drugs it acts on the nerve cells within the brain. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it suppresses excitatory nerve pathways and slows inhibitory nerve pathways.

It all starts when a person drinks an alcoholic beverage. About 20 percent of the alcohol is absorbed through the lining of the stomach, and the other 80 percent is absorbed in the small intestine. The alcohol is now in the bloodstream, dissolves into the water in the blood, and gets carried throughout the body where it dissolves into the tissue of the body (except fat tissue, alcohol does not dissolve into fat). The amount of alcohol in your blood is called the Blood Alcohol Concentration, or BAC. This all happens within 20 minutes of having that first sip.

There are a number of things that determine how quickly alcohol enters the bloodstream, and how concentrated it is in the body.

  1. Size: Small people can be affected more quickly by alcohol than larger people.
  2. Gender: Women are smaller than men, have more body fat (which is not alcohol friendly) and tend to reach higher BACs more quickly.
  3. Food: A full stomach definitely slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
  4. Strength of Drink: The greater the concentration of alcohol in the drink, the faster the absorption.
  5. Rate of Consumption: Chugging drinks, or drinking quickly, will increase the amount of alcohol taken into the system.
  6. Mood: A person who is upset, exhausted, or stressed (sounds like most college students) will feel the effects of alcohol more quickly.
  7. Drug Use: Prescription drugs and illegal drugs can alter the effects of alcohol and have dangerous consequences.

Alcohol leaves through the body through a process that happens in the liver. Generally, a person can eliminate one standard drink an hour. A person' BAC rises when the body absorbs alcohol faster than it can get rid of it.

Alcohol affects different parts of the brain, causing people to act intoxicated. Higher-order centers of the brain are affected first - these centers deal with your senses, thought processing, and voluntary muscle movement. Lower-order centers, like the medulla that handles breathing, heart rate, etc., are generally affected last. The higher the BAC, the more areas of the brain are impacted. When the body cannot process the alcohol fast enough, it will ultimately shut down entirely.

The National Institute of Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse has created this interactive body to show in detail how alcohol impacts different systems:

How to Moderate Your Use

Understanding strategies to moderate alcohol use is easy when you have basic knowledge about alcohol. Here are a few tips to help you drink responsibly.

  • Avoid drinking games. Playing drinking games makes it hard to keep track of how much you are drinking, or how quickly you are drinking.
  • Space your drinks over time. The quicker you drink, the faster your BAC will rise.
  • Alternate drinking non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes you have to go to the bathroom. This causes people to become dehydrated. Alternating non-alcohol and alcoholic drinks will help keep you hydrated and slow down your drinking.
  • Set a drinking limit before you start. Once you start drinking your judgment is impaired, so it is a good idea to set a limit before you become intoxicated.
  • Count the number of drinks you have. If you set a limit for yourself, then you have to count your drinks.
  • Prepare your own drinks. It is difficult to count the number of drinks you have if you are not the one pouring your drink! Do you know how much alcohol is in a mixed drink that a friend made for you?
  • Rehearse saying 'no thanks'. You don't have to take that shot! Especially if you know it will make your BAC rise faster. Make a plan for passing on those drinks you don't want.
  • Spend more time with friends who don't drink. There are so many things going on around campus that do not involve alcohol. Check out for this week's events.

Check out this checklist. You can review more tips and select the ones that you are willing to try -- then e-mail it to yourself or print it out as a reminder.

Drinking and Driving

An event with responsible drinking needs to end responsibly as well. We all know that .08 BAC is the legal limit for driving, but the reality is that it is never safe to drive after you have been drinking. Having a designated driver is always the safest way to get home. Living in a city also means access to public transportation and taxis. This is great for avoiding the dangers of drunk driving, but has its own risks. Traveling intoxicated through the city late at night (or early in the morning) is never a good idea. Plan ahead and drink responsibly.