Joseph V Micallef, Contributor, December 9, 2022
It’s the holiday season! A time when many individuals and organizations entertain friends, family, employees, and customers. December typically represents the peak month of alcoholic beverage consumption in the US. Given the wide diversity of alcoholic beverages, from low-alcohol seltzers and “alcopops” to beers, wines, and RTDs to overproof spirits, it’s not always apparent exactly how much alcohol, what in industry parlance is called “standard drink equivalence,” you are consuming.
The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States has launched a new public education campaign, the ABCs of ABVs, to promote a broader understanding of standard drink equivalence. Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RDN, LD, a nutrition expert and former director of nutrition at WebMD, is serving as spokesperson for the campaign. Recently, I spoke with Kathleen to find out more.
JM: Why is the Distilled Spirits Council launching this campaign now?
KZ: With the holidays in full swing, it’s time to celebrate with family, friends and coworkers. For many adults, that means toasting the season with a glass of beer, wine, or a cocktail. Given the increased consumption of alcohol during this period, now is an ideal time to raise attention to the importance of drinking responsibly and practicing moderation.
JM: Why focus on standard drink equivalence?
KZ: Understanding standard drink equivalence is essential for drinking responsibly and practicing moderation when consuming beverage alcohol. But right now, the overwhelming majority of adult Americans don’t know what constitutes a standard drink.
A national survey earlier this year found that nearly 9 out of 10 adults in the United States (88%) do not understand that a standard drink of beer or wine has the same amount of alcohol as a standard drink of distilled spirits – such as whisky, vodka or rum. This misunderstanding may lead people to incorrectly estimate how many standard drinks are in their beverage. For example, a single can of high-ABV craft beer or ready-to-drink beverage may be equivalent to more than one drink under the standard drink definition.
JM: What exactly is the standard drink definition?
KZ: It comes down to the “alcohol by volume” – or ABV – which is the amount of alcohol in a particular container of alcohol. A standard drink is 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (at 40% ABV), five fluid ounces of wine (at 12% ABV), 12 ounces of regular beer, or a ready-to-drink convenience cocktail (at 5% ABV).
Each of these drinks has the same amount of alcohol in them – 0.6 fluid ounces of ethanol. And research has shown that the effects of ethanol on the body are the same, regardless of whether it is in beer, wine, or distilled spirits products.
Governments (from local to federal), public health authorities, and health and traffic safety experts in the United States widely use this standard drink definition.
JM: How should adults use this information to guide their consumption?
KZ: The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans define moderate drinking as consuming up to one standard drink per day for women and up to two standard drinks per day for men for those who drink. That may be a lot less alcohol than people expect. Meanwhile, binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks in one sitting for women and five or more drinks on one occasion for men.
JM: Where can consumers get more information on standard drink equivalence?
KZ: The Distilled Spirits Council has a great website, StandardDrinks.org, which has more information on standard drink equivalence.
Since alcoholic beverages come in various types and container sizes, the website includes a helpful, easy-to-use calculator that allows consumers to input the container size and the ABV of their beverage to see how it measures up to one standard drink. Of course, it’s unlikely that consumers will pull up this calculator in the middle of a party. Still, I would encourage drinkers to look up their typical or expected beverages in advance to be better informed before they drink.
Notably, the website also notes that some adults should not consume any alcohol and recommends checking with your healthcare provider to discuss alcohol consumption.
JM: As a nutrition expert, do you have any final words of wisdom for our readers?
KZ: A beer, glass of wine, or cocktail can be part of an enjoyable and balanced lifestyle for most adults. But as Americans celebrate this holiday season, it’s important to remember that moderation is key for those who choose to drink. And it’s not what you drink; what counts is how much alcohol you drink.
So always remember your ABCs of ABVs: “A”lcohol is alcohol, “B”e mindful of alcohol consumption, and “C”onsume in moderation.
News Release Contact:Virginia ABC Communications - (804) 213-4413
In an effort to reduce underage and high-risk drinking, the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) will open its grant application process for the 2023-2024 Alcohol Education and Prevention Grant program on Jan. 1, 2023.
This is the eighth year Virginia ABC is offering grant funding to support the development of alcohol education and prevention programs across the commonwealth.
Since 2013, Virginia ABC has awarded an average of $80,000 each year through its grant program to Virginia organizations working to prevent underage and high-risk drinking. Organizations are eligible to receive up to $10,000 each to support best-practice programs that have a long-lasting impact and encourage partnerships between organizations. Community coalitions, law enforcement, nonprofits, schools, colleges and universities, faith-based organizations and prevention-related groups are encouraged to apply. Proposed projects must address one or more of the following focus areas:
• Underage drinking prevention
• Social providing or social hosting prevention
• High-risk drinking prevention
“We strive to support communities around Virginia to help individuals make informed health and safety decisions to prevent alcohol misuse,” said Director of Virginia ABC Education and Prevention Katie Crumble. “We are inspired by the work of previous grantees and look forward to the innovative ideas this year’s applicants may propose to reach their communities.”
Applications are available online, with a convenient online platform for submission. An application guide is provided to assist with completion and provide more information about the program. This grant application guide and the grant application are located on ABC’s website at www.abc.virginia.gov/education/grants.
Applications are due by 5 p.m. on March 1, 2023.