What is alcohol?

Alcohol is an intoxicating ingredient found in beer, wine, and liquor.  The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, 30% drank alcohol in the past 30 days.

What is a standard drink in the United States?

  • 12-ounces of domestic beer.
  • 8-ounces of malt liquor.
  • 5-ounces of wine.
  • 1.5-ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey).

What is binge drinking?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism binge drinking is defined as a pattern of alcohol consumption that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08% or more. This pattern of drinking usually corresponds to 5 or more drinks on a single occasion for adult men or 4 or more drinks on a single occasion for adult women, generally within about 2 hours. Underage binge drinking has a lower threshold to be considered dangerous for both genders (typically 3 drinks for minors).

Underage Drinking

Alcohol use by persons under age 21 years is a major public health problem. Alcohol is one of the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States.

  • By age 15, 33% of teens have had at least one drink.
  • By age 18, 60% of teens have had at least one drink.
  • More than 90% of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinks. On average, underage drinkers consume more drinks per drinking occasion than adult drinkers.

Drinking at college has become a ritual that students often see as an integral part of their higher education experience. Many students come to college with established drinking habits, and the college environment can exacerbate the problem.  According to a national survey, almost 60% of college students ages 18-22 drank alcohol in the past month, and almost 2 out of 3 of them engaged in binge drinking during that same timeframe.

Consequences of Underage Drinking

Youth who drink alcohol, are more likely to experience:

  • School problems, such as higher absence and poor or failing grades.
  • Social problems, such as fighting and lack of participation in youth activities.
    Legal problems, such as arrest for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk.
  • Physical problems, such as hangovers or illnesses.
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity.
  • Disruption of normal growth and sexual development.
  • Physical and sexual assault.
  • Higher risk for suicide and homicide.
  • Alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries, such as burns, falls, and drowning.
  • Memory problems.
  • Abuse of other drugs.
  • Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.
  • Death from alcohol poisoning.

In general, the risk of youth experiencing these problems is greater for those who binge drink than for those who do not binge drink. Youth who start drinking before age 15 years are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21 years.

What does it mean to be above the legal limit for drinking?

Forty nine states in the United States have adopted 0.08% (80 mg/dL) as the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle for drivers aged 21 years or older. However, drivers younger than 21 are not allowed to operate a motor vehicle with any level of alcohol in their system.

Is it safe to drink alcohol and drive?

No. Alcohol use slows reaction time and impairs judgment and coordination, which are all skills needed to drive a car safely. The more alcohol consumed, the greater the impairment.

What health problems are associated with excessive alcohol use?

Excessive drinking both in the form of heavy drinking or binge drinking, is associated with numerous health problems, including:

  • Alcohol abuse or dependence
  • Chronic diseases such as liver cirrhosis (damage to liver cells); pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas); various cancers, high blood pressure; and psychological disorders.
  • Unintentional injuries, such as motor-vehicle traffic crashes, falls, drowning, burns and firearm injuries.
  • Harm to a developing fetus if a woman drinks while pregnant, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

What is the difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism?

Alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one’s health, interpersonal relationships, or ability to work. Manifestations of alcohol abuse include the following:

  • Failure to fulfill major responsibilities at work, school, or home.
  • Drinking in dangerous situations, such as drinking while driving or operating machinery.
  • Legal problems related to alcohol, such as being arrested for drinking while driving or for physically hurting someone while drunk.
  • Continued drinking despite ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by drinking.
  • Long-term alcohol abuse can turn into alcohol dependence.

Dependency on alcohol, also known as alcohol addiction and alcoholism, is a chronic disease. The signs and symptoms of alcohol dependence include:

  • A strong craving for alcohol.
  • Continued use despite repeated physical, psychological, or interpersonal problems.
  • The inability to limit drinking.

How does alcohol affect a person?

Alcohol affects every organ in the body. It is a central nervous system depressant that is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. Alcohol is metabolized in the liver by enzymes; however, the liver can only metabolize a small amount of alcohol at a time, leaving the excess alcohol to circulate throughout the body. The intensity of the effect of alcohol on the body is directly related to the amount consumed.

Why do some people react differently to alcohol than others? 
Individual reactions to alcohol vary, and are influenced by many factors; such as:

  • Age.
  • Gender.
  • Race or ethnicity.
  • Physical condition (weight, fitness level, etc).
  • Amount of food consumed before drinking.
  • How quickly the alcohol was consumed.
  • Use of drugs or prescription medicines.
  • Family history of alcohol problems.


Beer Bong: A device used to drink beer quickly through a hose or funnel
Black Out: The memory loss experienced during a period of binge drinking.
Chug (Chugging): Consuming a large amount of alcohol quickly (often as part of a drinking game).
Everclear: A dangerously potent drink with a 90 proof level (45% alcohol).  Sometimes injected or mixed with fruit.
Hangover: An ill feeling experienced the day after drinking alcohol.
Jag: An extended period of heavy drug or alcohol abuse.
Jello Shots: Grocery store gelatin products mixed with alcohol and usually served in an ice cube tray or small cups.
Methyl Alcohol: A highly dangerous form of alcohol found in household products such as antifreeze, fuel and paint thinners (may also be known as “wood alcohol”).
Pre-Game: To take part in drinking alcohol before a party.
Shot- gunning: “punch a hole” in the side of a beer can, and consume at a high rate of speed by drinking as fast as possible.
Turnt, lit, crunk, tipsy, loaded: are all phrases often associated with heavy alcohol use

Terminology changes all the time so take a few minutes to look up any words your child is using that you aren’t familiar with.