How strong is that pina colada? Or how about those tasty rum drinks you’ve been slurping poolside in order to beat the heat?It’s not unusual for our favorite frozen concoctions and seasonal drinks to contain as much alcohol as two glasses of wine, or more, and the National Institutes of Health is trying to spread the word with the development of an online calculator that makes it easier to measure how much you’re really drinking with those special summer cocktails. Check it out at: rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/toolsresources/cocktailcalculator.A “standard drink” is the amount of alcohol in a 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. It’s a useful way to track alcohol consumption. But the multiple ingredients of mixed drinks make for a harder count. “Most people don’t realize how much alcohol is actually in a drink,” says Dr. George Koob, director of the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Obviously it depends on the bartender and who’s mixing the drinks.”Plus, recipes matter, Koob adds. The NIH’s online calculator assumes a typical pina colada, for instance, contains 3 ounces of rum. Plan on using 2 ounces instead? The calculator adjusts to show it’s like 1.3 standard drinks.What about a margarita? The calculator concludes this popular beverage contains the equivalent of 1.7 standard drinks if made with 1.5 ounces of tequila, an ounce of orange liqueur and half an ounce of lime juice. Of course, your neighbor may be adding an extra jigger to his homemade recipe. A mojito? 1.3 standard drinks. A martini, extra dry? 1.4 standard drinks.Beyond beverage choice, Koob, who specializes in the neurobiology of alcohol, offers a few practical tips and warnings. Summer heatHeat increases thirst, but alcohol is a diuretic, Koob notes. So in addition to the usual advice to pace yourself — no more than one standard drink an hour — Koob says to stay hydrated by alternating some water or club soda with the alcohol. Beyond drinking and drivingAccording to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a whoopping 38 percent of fatalities involved alcohol-impaired driving in 2011. But alcohol also doesn’t mix with boating, or swimming and diving either, Koob warns, and he notes that statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that alcohol use is involved in up to 70 percent of adult and adolescent deaths associated with water recreation. Holding your alcohol What determines why one drink is plenty for one person while another routinely downs two or three? Scientists say genes play a big role, but so do environmental factors, such as when a person becomes accustomed to drinking a certain amount. That tolerance is a balancing act, Koob says, and research shows that the person who can drink others under the table is also at higher risk for alcohol problems later in life than is someone more sensitive to its effects.
Packing a punch
Do you have a special recipe for a poolside rum drink with an extra kick? Type it into the National Institutes of Health’s online calculator so you’ll know how much alcohol you’re actually serving your guests.
Women’s bodies react differently to alcohol, and not just because they tend to weigh less than men. Dr. George Koob, director of the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, notes that women don’t metabolize alcohol as quickly, and their bodies contain less water.
On average, it takes one less drink for a woman to become intoxicated than a man of the same weight. As a result of this research, the NIAAA’s definition of low-risk drinking for women is no more than seven drinks a week and no more than three drinks on any single day. For men, the limit is no more than 14 drinks a week and no more than four drinks on any single day.