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Science Explains Why You Get So Drunk Drinking Beer

Science Explains Why You Get So Drunk Drinking Beer: © HEX/Corbis

© HEX/Corbis

You’re at a happy hour with your coworkers, or having a bite to eat with some buddies. You’re only a few sips into your second pint, and suddenly you realize you’re rocking a perma-grin and your voice is two decibels louder than it should be. You’re solidly buzzing, and well on your way to be drunk. On beer.

If this experience is foreign to you, you’re probably a light beer kind of guy. Miller. Bud. Coors. But if you’re a fan of craft beers—IPAs and Belgians and those monster stouts—then chances are good you’ve had happy hours and buddy dinners like the ones described above (and woke up with the hangover to prove it).

What’s the deal with that? Isn’t beer supposed to be the light-drinking alternative to wine and liquor?

You already know craft beers tend to have a higher alcohol content than the PBRs and Budweisers of the world. But even at 7% or 8% alcohol by volume (ABV), craft brews still clock in well below wine, which tends to fall somewhere between 12% and 14% ABV. And compared to “hard” liquor, which hovers in the vicinity of 40% ABV, beer seems comparatively soft.

But when you do the math, you realize a jump from the 4% to 5% alcohol content of a Miller Light to the 7% or 8% of a craft pale ale makes a BIG different in terms of your buzz.

How big? Josh Gowin, Ph.D., is a psychopharmacologist and alcohol researcher with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He points out that the 12-ounce can of Miller Light you might drink on the golf course—and that you bonged and solo-cupped by the caseful in college—contains just over half an ounce of alcohol. That’s 12 ounces multiplied by .045, which is a Miller Light’s ABV, Gowin explains.

“A cocktail made with a standard 1.5-ounce shot of liquor contains .6 ounces of alcohol,” or roughly the same as that can of Miller light, Gowin says. (If you want to check his math, you can use the NIH’s handy drink size calculator.)

But that 8% ABV pint of IPA? It packs a whopping 1.28 ounces of alcohol—or more than double a standard cocktail or can of light beer, Gowin says.

Even if you pounded two-and-a-third cans of Miller Light in the same amount of time you’d take to finish one craft pint, you’d be swallowing a pitcher of water along with your Miller, which would offset its boozy punch.

A more apt comparison for your craft pint: swallowing two shots (and change) of bourbon along with a single glass of water. Imagine the look on your boss’s face if you put down a couple of those at your next company happy hour.

So yeah. If you’ve found yourself clinging to the bar or splashing water on your face after two pints, there’s a good reason for it: You’re sloshed.

80 proof (40% ABV) booze has between 5 and 8 times more alcohol by volume than a beer, depending on whether it’s 5% ABV or 7%. But a pint of beer has nearly 11 times the alcoholic liquid (16 oz) as a standard cocktail (1.5 ozs). Add to this the fact that you tend to drink beer quickly—slurping, not sipping—and that explains a lot of it.

Also, a lot of people have mild allergies that change their reaction to a drink. An unfiltered IPA or Belgian wheat beer with dozens of ingredients is more likely to trigger a headache or other allergy symptoms.

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