Estimates of the absolute and relative strengths of diverse alcoholic drinks by young people

Suzanne Higgs, Philip Terry, Stephanie Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
159 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Evidence suggests that college students are often unclear about how much alcohol is present in different drinks. Objectives: To evaluate the abilities of students to estimate the alcohol contents of drinks, both in relative and absolute terms, and to examine how alcohol strength informs behavior.

Methods: For 10 popular drinks that varied by alcohol content, beverage and volume, 209 UK university students rank-ordered the drinks according to total alcohol content and then estimated, for each drink, the number of UK
“units” of alcohol contained and its percentage alcohol-by-volume (%ABV). Participants also reported the importance of drink strength as a factor in drink choice, and its influence in different scenarios. Results: There was low but significant concordance between participants’ rank-orderings of drinks by strength, and the correlation of mean ranks with correct ranks was also significant. However, their explicit estimates of the numbers of
“units” in the drinks, and their %ABV values, often diverged dramatically from actual values. Participants tended to overestimate the unit contents of spirit-based drinks but underestimated the unit contents of beers and wine; women were consistently less accurate than men, typically making greater underestimates for commonly-consumed drinks. Over one-third of the sample reported that strength influenced drink choice, but its importance ranked below flavour and cost; drink strength might contribute to drink choice depending on the drinking situation. Conclusion/Importance: Young drinkers (women especially) have a poor awareness of the alcohol contents of different drinks, particularly wines and beers, but they make better judgments of relative strength.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1781-1789
JournalSubstance Use & Misuse
Early online date11 Aug 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Aug 2016


  • Drink labelling
  • College drinking
  • Alcohol strength
  • Alcohol content
  • Intoxication


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