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Are you too drunk to drive? Alcohol content in drinks can be tricky

Americans love to drink alcohol, but the romance is especially strong here in Wisconsin. It's common to have a few drinks during happy hour after work or while watching a Packers game with friends. Most of us can drink in moderation and don't think we need to worry about driving home afterward.

Unfortunately, the amount of alcohol in any given drink can be deceiving. According to a report recently released by the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association, the alcohol levels in restaurant-served wines, beers and cocktails may be higher than they seem. This could be putting responsible drinkers at risk of drunk driving charges.

Before you can say that it's legally safe to drive after having "a drink or two," it's important to define what an alcoholic drink actually is. According guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a standard drink is:

  • 12 ounces of beer with 5 percent alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine with 12 percent alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of liquor (vodka, whiskey, etc.) with 40 percent alcohol

If these drinks seem small to you, you're not alone. Many Americans don't drink alcohol in these quantities, partially because many restaurants don't serve drinks according to USDA guidelines. Beer on tap is often served in a pint glass, which holds 16 ounces. Wine glasses can hold much more than 5 ounces, but the average serving in a restaurant is just over 6 ounces.

It's also important to note that the alcohol content of beer and wine can vary signficantly depending on the type and brand. Beer commonly ranges from 4.5 percent to upwards of 9 percent. Wines can range from about 12 to 15 percent alcohol.

Unfortunately, there is no easy "rule of thumb" to moderate drinking, because alcohol affects each person differently. Therefore, it's important to pay attention to how you're feeling after drinking and err on the side of caution. If you're starting to feel tipsy, you may be too drunk to drive.

That being said, honest and conscientious drinkers can and do get charged with driving under the influence. If you are facing DUI charges, you may wish to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.


Source:, "How Much Alcohol In Your Drink? Stronger Beverages Make It Tough to Tell," Brenda Goodman, Oct. 15, 2013

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