What is alcohol?

A standard drink contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. A standard drink is:

  • 12-ounces of beer (5% alcohol content)
  • 8-ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)
  • 5-ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)
  • 1.5-ounces of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey)
What is considered a drink?

Alcohol by volume (ABV) affects drinking recommendations. ABV is a standard measure of how much alcohol (ethanol) is contained in a given volume of an alcoholic beverage (expressed as a volume percent). To calculate drink equivalents, multiply the volume in ounces by the alcohol content in percent and divide by 0.6 ounces of alcohol per drink-equivalent.

Drink DescriptionDrink-Equivalents
Beer, beer coolers, and malt beverages
12 fl oz at 4.2% alcohol0.8
12 fl oz at 5% alcohol (reference beverage)1
16 fl oz at 5% alcohol1.3
12 fl oz at 7% alcohol1.4
12 fl oz at 9% alcohol1.8
5 fl oz at 12% alcohol (reference beverage)1
9 fl oz at 12% alcohol1.8
5 fl oz at 15% alcohol1.3
5 fl oz at 17% alcohol1.4
Distilled spirits
1.5 fl oz 80 proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol) (reference beverage)1

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available via health.gov

What is moderate drinking?

Moderate drinking is defined as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. 

What is excessive drinking?

Excessive drinking includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by people who are pregnant or people younger than age 21.

Binge drinking is defined as consuming 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men.

Heavy drinking is defined as consuming 8 or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more drinks per week for men.

What do the data tell us about alcohol use in Vermont?

National data shows that Vermonters in all age groups - youth (12-17), young adults (18-25), and adults (26+) - drink alcohol at higher rates compared to the country overall. People who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at 21.

Vermont has similar rates of binge drinking to the United States.

It is important to understand the reasons Vermonters are drinking more frequently than others in the U.S. The Health Department is monitoring how our efforts are making a positive difference with young people drinking underage, and to encourage responsible drinking among legal age Vermonters.

What are the health risks of alcohol use?

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research found that an estimated one in five deaths among adults aged 20-49 years is due to excessive alcohol use (Journal of the American Medical Association). The leading causes of deaths from excessive drinking were alcoholic liver disease, deaths involving another substance in addition to a high blood alcohol concentration, and motor vehicle traffic crashes.

Short-Term Excess Use

  • Injuries from accidents or violence
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Miscarriage or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)
  • Death

Long-Term Excess Use

  • High blood pressure, Heart disease, Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety
  • Social and family issues
  • Alcohol dependence or addiction

There are short-term and long-term mental and physical risks of excess alcohol use.

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How can you reduce health risks of alcohol use?

  1. Drink in moderation
  2. Drink a lot of water - before, during, and after drinking alcohol
  3. Eat - especially foods high in protein
  4. Space out drinks during a night out - the average person breaks down 1 drink an hour
  5. Do not drink in front of people who are under 21
  6. Store your alcohol safely away from children and pets
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You should not drink alcohol if you are:

  • Younger than age 21
  • Pregnant or may be pregnant
  • Driving, planning to drive, or participating in other activities requiring skill, coordination, and alertness
  • Taking certain prescription or over-the-counter medications that can interact with alcohol
  • With certain medical conditions
  • In recovery

Help is available

VT Helplink alcohol and drug support center logo

VT Helplink alcohol and drug support center provides information, support and referrals for substance use treatment, recovery and harm-reduction services in Vermont. 


Parent Up provides tips for parents and caregivers about talking with their kids about alcohol and cannabis. 

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Alcohol Screening provides help to assess alcohol use behaviors and health risks. 

Contact Us
Substance Use Programs (DSU)

Vermont Department of Health
280 State Street
Waterbury, VT 05671-8340


More Info
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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
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National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
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