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Chapter 3.   Drinks... beer, wine, liquor - what's the difference

I love the feeling it gives me.

Jessica J., Franklin Pierce College senior


I hate the feeling of being out of control.

Steve L., University of Florida junior


I hate the taste of beer but I drink it anyway.

Jessica L., University of Florida sophomore


It acts as liquid courage and a social lubricant.

Alan S., University of New Hampshire sophomore

When we actually calculated the percentage of alcohol in different drinks, it was interesting. It made me think  twice about how much I drink.

Betty T., Keene State College sophomore


If you choose to drink alcohol, not only is it important that you understand what it is you are drinking, but also how much. Students often arrive at a party and head straight to the keg, the punch bowl, or maybe the shot bar. They start drinking whatever is available with no knowledge of what or how much they are drinking. 


One drink is equal to a half ounce of pure ethyl alcohol which can be “packaged” as a 12-ounce regular beer, a 4-ounce glass of regular table wine, a 1-ounce shot of 100-proof liquor or a 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof liquor.


If you choose to consume alcohol, be an informed consumer!




It’s not like I drink the hard stuff. It’s only beer.

Jenn M., New Hampshire College first-year student


Beer is for real men.

John L., University of Maine sophomore


Beer has the reputation of being somewhat less dangerous than other alcoholic beverages. However, the only difference between the alcohol in beer and that in other beverages is the concentration or volume of alcohol in the drink. The alcohol is the same – ethyl alcohol. Most regular beers contain between 4 percent and 6 percent of alcohol by volume. This means that in an average 12 ounce can of beer there is approximately one-half ounce of alcohol. The rest of the 11ounces contain things like Bavarian hops – only the finest barley of course – and perhaps a dash of Rocky Mountain spring water.


12 ounces regular beer x .045 = .54 ounces of alcohol


Here’s the approximate volume of alcohol in a number of beers available across the country:

Amstel Light - 3.04

Bass Ale -5.08

Beck’s - 5.07

Black Label - 4.50

Budweiser - 4.75

Budweiser Light - 3.60

Busch - 4.60

Coors - 4.75

Coors Light - 4.19

Dos Equis - 4.75

Killian’s Red Ale - 5.42

Harley Davidson - 5.10

Heineken - 5.00

Michelob - 4.90

Michelob Light - 4.20

Miller - 4.86

Miller Light - 4.18

Moosehead - 4.82

Natural Light - 4.20

Pabst Blue Ribbon - 4.72

Rolling Rock - 4.52

Samuel Adams - 4.62

Stroh’s - 4.50

Whitebread - 4.40


With a revised production process the beer industry developed and created ice beer. Ostensibly,  the introduction of ice beers was the  result of the beer industry’s desire to provide us with a richer flavor. It is interesting to note, however, that this richer flavor comes with an increase in the alcohol content of the beer – alcohol, the substance that causes alcohol use disorders. During the early 1980s, beer sales of large U.S. brewers began to decline. The industry counted on the extra kick in ice beer to spark the staggering beer market of the 1990s and it has maintained a small portion of the market today. Ice beers tend to contain between 5.5 percent and 8 percent of alcohol by volume, approximately 50 percent more alcohol than regular beers.


12 ounces ice beer x .06 = .72 ounces of alcohol


Here’s the approximate volume of alcohol in a number of widely available ice beers: Budweiser Ice Draft …….……………5.48

Labatt’s Ice Beer - 5.60

Miller Icehouse - 5.42

Molson Ice - 5.19

Malt liquors also contain more alcohol than regular beer, averaging about 7 percent of alcohol by volume.


12 ounces malt liquor x .07 = .84 ounces of alcohol


Here’s the volume of alcohol in a number of common malt liquors:

Colt 45 M. L. - 5.90

EKU M. L. - 10.90

Elephant M. L. - 7.20

Golden Hawk M. L. - 6.50

Schlitz M. L. - 5.80


If you choose to consume alcohol, be an informed consumer!


McSorleys Old Ale House is the oldest of the typical pre-Civil War saloons still operating in New York City. It was founded in 1854 and is the only true ale house left in the world. The only liquid refreshment sold is ale. When asked why he never sold anything else (or stronger) such as whiskey, John McSorley, the founder, explained, "Ale is potent enough for any man."

From the History Books


Table Wine


I hate the taste of beer. I’m not too crazy about wine either –  but I have to drink something,

so I sip wine.

Stephanie F., Pennsylvania State University junior


Regular table wines (Beaujolais, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chablis, Rhine, etc.) usually contain approximately 12 percent of alcohol by volume. The volume will never be higher than 14 percent or so for a simple reason: the fermentation process that produces wine relies on the interaction of the natural sugars of various fruits and grains with either wild yeast in the air or commercial yeast. When a volume of between 12 and 14 percent alcohol is reached in the fermenting juice, fermentative yeast can no longer survive. The production of alcohol then ceases. Therefore, a 4-ounce glass of wine contains around half an ounce of alcohol. The rest of the drink is juice and other additives.


4 ounces regular table wine x .12 = .48 ounces of alcohol


If you choose to consume alcohol, be an informed consumer!



Wine Coolers and Alcopops


It is a common belief among college students that wine coolers are for women and wimps.



I had no idea they had that much alcohol! No wonder I got wrecked the other night.

Jenny B., University of Connecticut first-year student


Wine coolers and alcopops have acquired the reputation of being a “girl’s drink” or a “sissy drink.” If you are not an informed consumer, you might believe this. After all, they do seem innocent enough. Wine coolers are are made from wine and fruit juice. Alcopops tend to be flavored malt beverages with added alcohol. The fact is, however, that wine coolers  and alcopops generally contain between 3 percent and 8 percent volume of alcohol with an average volume of approximately 6 percent.


12 ounce average wine cooler x .06 = .72 ounces of alcohol


In other words, many 12-ounce wine coolers could contain almost 50 percent more alcohol than an average 12-ounce beer. Therefore, depending on the brand, a six-pack of average beer could be equal to a four pack of average wine coolers! Examples of these products include Bacardi Breeze, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Seagram’s Escapes and many more.


If you choose to consume alcohol, be an informed consumer!

From the History Books

Possibly the vilest (from a Western point of view) liquor was yan-yang-tskew, a Chinese rot gut made from fermented sheep\'s flesh and, in one province, from fermenting carcasses of plump puppy dogs. "Lamb wine" was said to be especially strong, a favorite among Tartars and Mongols. Genghis Kahn is said to have favored it.


Fortified Wine


Man, that stuff is deadly.

Michael V., University of Connecticut junior


Some wine companies will fortify or increase the alcohol content of their wine by simply adding more alcohol. The result is called fortified wine. These extra-potent wines generally contain anywhere from 14 percent to 24 percent volume of alcohol. A particularly dangerous fortified wine called Cisco is available in some states. It’s also known on the streets as liquid crack. Whenever I mention this product in class, I usually hear a number of moans and groans of recognition. Those responses usually come from students who have tried Cisco. Cisco tastes a bit like cough medicine, is cheap, is available in 12-ounce bottles or liters and has a 20-percent volume of alcohol. (A weaker form called Cisco Tropicals has a 14.9-percent volume of alcohol.)


12 ounces of Cisco x .20 = 2.4 ounces of alcohol


Therefore, a 12-ounce bottle of Cisco is equal to five drinks. After hearing about this drink, some students half-jokingly inquire, “Where can we get it?” It is illegal in many states because it exceeds the acceptable volume of alcohol for a fortified wine, as established by the respective state liquor authorities. If I, as a 180-pound male, were to drink a 12 ounce bottle of Cisco in one hour, my blood alcohol level would be about .10 percent – legally drunk! A 110-pound female would have a BAL of approximately .23 percent. If she were encouraged to have another shortly after by a friend or her date, her BAL would increase to approximately .44 percent. She would be at high risk for a serious impairment problem!


If you choose to consume alcohol, be an informed consumer!

Fortified Wine




I knew I got drunk faster when I was drinking mixed drinks, but I didn’t know why.

Jason M., Keene State College sophomore


The volume of alcohol in liquor is referred to as proof. Proof is exactly twice the volume of alcohol. A 100-proof liquor contains a 50-percent volume of alcohol. An 80-proof liquor contains a 40-percent volume of alcohol.


1 ounce of 100-proof vodka x .50 = .50 ounces of alcohol

1.5 ounces of 80-proof whiskey x .40 = .60 ounces of alcohol


There are some special considerations with regard to drinking liquor. Liquor contains little nutritional value. When we drink liquor, therefore, it is absorbed into our bloodstream very quickly. When I was eighteen years old, I enjoyed reading James Bond adventures. And, while out on a dinner date, in an attempt to emulate my hero and impress my date, I once ordered a vodka martini. After just two of these, I felt like I had been hit in the head with a sledgehammer! It seemed as though the vodka went straight into my bloodstream. And to some degree, it did. I was drinking on an empty stomach, and the martini had no food content to slow the absorption. If the vodka had been mixed with some tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, and salt and pepper – making a Bloody Mary – theoretically it would have taken a little longer for the vodka to enter my bloodstream because the food content of the juice would have slowed the absorption. But James Bond did not drink Bloody Marys, and I sure embarrassed myself in front of my date after a few martinis. Here is an overview of various amounts of alcohol in some liquors:


Whiskey:  80 - 150 proof = 40% - 75% volume

Vodka:  80 - 100 proof = 40% - 50% volume

Gin:  80 - 98 proof = 40% - 48% volume

Rum:  80 - 151 proof = 40% - 75% volume

Tequila:  90 - 100 proof = 45% - 50% volume

If you choose to consume alcohol, be an informed consumer!





I was handed a glass of punch. It tasted great so I had a few more and so on. I never tasted any alcohol. All  of a sudden it hit me. I was hammered! I had to get “escorted” home, where I proceeded to vomit and pass out. I never had a worse hangover than that one.  Since then, if I don’t plan on drinking, I bring my own non-alcoholic beverage.

Allison E., Keene State College junior


At many parties, a wide variety of fruit juice punches are served. These punches are generally spiked with some mild-tasting type of liquor such as vodka. Do not simply assume that one glass of punch will be equal to one drink (half ounce of alcohol) as previously described. Quite often this is not the case because a large quantity of alcohol can be hidden by the sweet-tasting fruit juices. For your own safety and well-being, avoid these spiked punches regardless of how good or “innocent” they may taste. One other reason for avoiding punch is the potential for the addition of other drugs to this dangerous mix. There are a number of drugs circulating around many campuses, such as Rohypnol or GHB, which can be added to punch as well as other drinks and are undetectable by the drinker. These drugs can cause the drinker to become extremely impaired, helpless, and perhaps cause an extended blackout or even death.


If you choose to consume alcohol, be an informed consumer!



Energy Drinks


During 2010, major news outlets featured stories on the dangerous effects of the increasingly popular yet extremely dangerous alcoholic energy drinks.  In particular the brand "Four Loco" was implicated in many highly publicized tragedies resulting in numerous hospital emergency room visits.  Alcoholic energy drinks can contain high levels of caffeine and other stimulants combined with potentially dangerous levels of alcohol. As of November 2010, based on the serious concerns about drinks like Four Loko and Sparks, the Food and Drug Administration implemented extensive restrictions on these types of drinks


There are a number of concerns with regard to the consumption of alcoholic energy drinks.  This includes not only pre-mixed alcoholic energy drinks like Four Loko and Sparks but also drinks like vodka mixed with Red Bull or Jagermeister. Fatigue, which is the body's way of saying it's had enough alcohol to drink, is eradicated due to the stimulants.  These drinks fool the body into thinking it is not drunk and yet the drinker can be extremely impaired.  Remember, wide awake does not necessarily mean sober!  With the increased level of wakefulness comes an increased level of consumption putting the drinker at a much greater risk for alcohol poisoning.  In conjunction with this, fruit flavor masks the high level of alcohol also contributing to higher than normal consumption.


One of the appeals of alcoholic energy drinks is the expectation of a sustained high that would allow drinking longer into the night and avoiding hangovers.  However, caffeine is a diuretic and alcohol also dehydrates the drinker which actually worsens the effects of the hangover. The drinker may feel that s/he can party for a long time but is really just going to have a greater hangover the next day. 


According to National Institute of Health, mixing high levels of caffeine and other stimulants with alcohol sends mixed messages to the nervous system.  This can can boost the heart rate and blood pressure as well as increase the risk of heart rhythm problems. Anyone with a pre-existing heart condition is at even higher risk for a major problem.  The challenge for young adults is that at a younger age they may not even be aware of a pre-existing heart condition.


Consumption of alcoholic beverages bears with it a great deal of responsibility for the drinker.   These types of drinks pose a significant health risk for the drinker as well as those around him or her. 


Energy Drinks


Personal Challenge: Alcohol Attitudes


To assess your attitudes about alcohol.



Circle the words that best describe your feelings about the following sentences.

(Electronic version currently under cnstruction)


1. People enjoy being around me more when I’ve had a few drinks.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree

2. I can have a few drinks without my driving being affected.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


3. Alcohol helps me get through stressful situations.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


4. Drinking changes my personality for the worse.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


5. Drinking regularly could result in my becoming addicted to alcohol.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


6. Drinking alcohol is bad for my health.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


7. I could have family problems if I drank every day.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


8. I have more fun at social events when I drink.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


9. Alcohol has been a negative influence on my life.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


10. My friendships would be damaged if I drank a lot.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


11. I feel more confident when I drink alcohol.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


12. Drinking alcohol is a good way for me to relax and loosen up.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


13. I would feel ashamed if I drank too much.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


14. I would have problems at school if I drank more than I do now.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


15. I would have lower grades if I drank more than I do now.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


16. Drinking is a good way to forget my problems.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


17. It is okay if I get drunk once in awhile.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


18. I feel that driving a car after having a few drinks is a stupid thing to do.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


19. I would feel more popular if I drank alcohol.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


20. Drinking alcohol is a normal part of the college experience.

Strongly Agree       Agree      Not Sure      Disagree     Strongly Disagree


Answers to this exercise can be found in the Challenge Results section at the end of this book.



After completing the survey, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How do you feel about the results of this survey?

  2. Review your answers and score on each individual question. How do you feel about your scores on each of these attitudes?

  3. What role does alcohol play in your life?


Adapted from Program Evaluation Handbook: Alcohol Abuse Education (1988). Center for Disease Control and the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


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