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Know your ABVs: Your drink probably has more alcohol than you think

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The craft beer industry continues to boom in Minnesota, but public safety officials say those brews can lead people – event veteran drinkers – to consume more than they intended.

"Two beers is not necessarily two beers, depending on what you're drinking," Terry Kelley, a special agent with the DPS' Alcohol and Gaming Enforcement division (DPS-AGE), said at a news conference Monday.

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It all comes down to the ABVs – alcohol by volume.

The typical craft beer has a higher ABV than standard beer. In fact, it's equivalent to nearly two regular beers, the Minnesota Department of Safety said in a news release.

That leads many people to drink more alcohol than they think they are, which can be dangerous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 73 people die from alcohol poisoning every year in Minnesota – one of the highest rates in the country.

How much alcohol is in your drink?

There's no law that requires the ABV of drinks to be listed on the menu at restaurants and bars, Kelley said. But the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) has compared the alcohol content in some popular drinks to regular beer (a 12-ounce beer with 5 percent ABV) to put alcohol levels into perspective:

  • Average craft beer = 1.8 regular beers (The ABV varies greatly with craft beers – anywhere from 4 percent to 10 percent – so check the label on the bottle or the brewery's website for more information.)
  • 5 ounces of wine = 1 regular beer
  • Moscow mule = 1.3 regular beers
  • Screwdriver = 1.3 regular beers
  • Mojito = 1.3 regular beers
  • Gin and tonic = 1.6 regular drinks
  • Martini = 1.2 – 1.4 regular drinks
  • Margarita = 1.7 regular drinks

It's also important to remember that a bottle of beer is usually less than a glass at the bar, where pours are typically 16-20 ounces, Kelley said Monday.

Figuring out how much you're drinking

The agency is hoping to prevent the loss of life, so it's working to educate people – everyone from college students to experienced drinkers – about how much alcohol they're actually consuming, especially ahead of the holiday party season.

“If you don’t know how much alcohol you are drinking, you could be putting your life or the lives of those around you in danger," Michele Tuchner, Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division director, said in the news release. "Educate yourself on the types of drinks you are consuming; it could make the difference between life and death.”

To figure out the alcohol content in other drinks, check out the National Institute of Health's cocktail content calculator. (Remember, every bartender pours drinks differently, so alcohol content will vary.)

To avoid drinking too much, the National Institute of Health reminds drinkers to pace themselves – stick to one standard drink per hour, with nonalcoholic "drink spacers" between alcoholic beverages.

It takes about two hours for an adult to completely break down a single drink, the agency says.

The National Institute of Health has other tools to help people think about the way they're drinking, including calorie calculators, blood-alcohol content calculators, and a tool to measure your drinking pattern.

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