Did you know beer, wine and spirits all contain ethanol?

Every alcohol drink contains ethanol and that’s what affects you, rather than the type of drink you choose.

Illustration of a whisky glass, pint glass and wine glass

All alcohol drinks contain ethanol, but the amount can vary

Whether you drink beer, wine or spirits, they all contain the same type of alcohol called ethanol. This is created when either fruits or grains are fermented to produce alcohol drinks. It’s the ethanol in these drinks that affects your mood and reactions – and ethanol affects you in the same way, regardless of what type of drink you choose.

Of course, different drinks have different concentrations of alcohol. This is generally expressed as the percentage of alcohol by volume or ABV. You‘ve probably noticed that bottles and cans often include the strength of the drink as ABV on the label. It’s the ABV that can help you be aware of how much alcohol is in your drink.

  • Spirits have the highest concentration of alcohol and most contain around 40% ABV. Strength can vary considerably, however. Some vodkas contain 30% ethanol, while some bourbons may be around 60% ABV and certain ‘high proof’ spirits can have up to 95% alcohol content.
  • Liqueurs, which are also spirits-based, generally contain less alcohol and their ABV may be below 20%.
  • Wine is less concentrated than spirits and generally contains between 12 and 15% ABV. However, some wines can be stronger, and fortified wines like port or sherry are usually around 20% ABV. The alcohol concentration in beer as a category is lowest, and most regular beer ranges between 4% and 10% ABV. Some craft beers may be comparable in strength to certain wines at around 12% ABV.
Infographic explaining how much alcohol is in a US Standard drink, as well as how many standard drinks are in beer, wine and spirits.

How drinking affects you depends on how quickly and how much you drink, and on how much alcohol is in your drink

Factors such as your body size and weight, biological sex and age influence how you process alcohol and how drinking can therefore affect you (1-4). Most importantly, this also depends on how much you drink, which is determined by the concentration (ABV) of the drink you’ve chosen and how quickly you drink it. Whether this alcohol comes as beer, wine or spirits is less important.

Knowing the ABV of your drink is very useful and can help you choose your beverage and anticipate its effect on you.

Graphic image of two wine glasses. One with a small wine serving and the other with a large wine serving.

All alcohol drinks contain ethanol, but the amount can vary

Some governments use the terms ‘unit’ or ‘standard drink' to help measure drinking and provide health guidelines. A standard drink of any beverage – beer, wine or spirits – will always contain the same amount of ethanol in grams (5).

However, relating standard drinks to what you’re actually drinking can be complicated. For example, if someone tops your glass up before you’re finished, it may be hard to keep track of what you’ve consumed. Also, the size of your glass may not match up to the standard size for your drink. The best rule of thumb is to always be responsible, drink moderately, and avoid activities and situations in which drinking can put you at risk.

There are tools available that can help you translate what you are drinking into standard drinks.

Are you concerned about the effects of drinking on your body?

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