What is alcohol?
Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is an intoxicating ingredient found in beer, wine, and liquor. Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches.
What is a standard drink in the United States? A standard drink is equal to 14.0 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in:
- 12-ounces of 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 men or 4 or more drinks on a single occasion for women, generally within about 2 hours.
Alcohol use by persons under age 21 years is a major public health problem. Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States, more than tobacco and illicit drugs. Although drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal, people aged 12 to 20 years drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States. 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. In 2008, there were approximately 190,000 emergency rooms visits by persons under age 21 for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol.
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?
The legal limit for drinking is the alcohol level above which an individual is subject to legal penalties (e.g., arrest or loss of a driver’s license).
- Legal limits are measured using either a blood alcohol test or a breathalyzer.
- Legal limits are typically defined by state law, and may vary based on individual characteristics, such as age and occupation.
All 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.
Note: Legal limits do not define a level below which it is safe to operate a vehicle or engage in some other activity. Impairment due to alcohol use begins to occur at levels well below the legal limit.
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:
- Chronic diseases such as liver cirrhosis (damage to liver cells); pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas); various cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, larynx (the voice box), and esophagus; high blood pressure; and psychological disorders.
- Unintentional injuries, such as motor-vehicle traffic crashes, falls, drowning, burns and firearm injuries.
- Violence, such as child maltreatment, homicide, and suicide.
- Harm to a developing fetus if a woman drinks while pregnant, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- Alcohol abuse or dependence.
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.
Is it okay to drink when pregnant?
No. There is no safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy. Women who are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant should refrain from drinking alcohol.16 Several conditions, including Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders have been linked to alcohol use during pregnancy. Women of child bearing age should also avoid binge drinking to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy and potential exposure of a developing fetus to alcohol.
Drinking Levels among Youth
The 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, during the past 30 days:
- 42% drank some amount of alcohol.
- 24% binge drank.
- 10% drove after drinking alcohol.
- 28% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
In 2008 the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported:
- 28% of youth aged 12 to 20 years drink alcohol.
- 19% reported binge drinking.
In 2009, the Monitoring the Future Survey reported:
- 37% of 8th graders and 72% of 12th graders had tried alcohol
- 15% of 8th graders and 44% of 12th graders drank during the past month.
What is the difference between alcoholism and alcohol abuse?
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:
- 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.
What does it mean to get drunk?
“Getting drunk” or intoxicated is the result of consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Binge drinking typically results in acute intoxication.
Alcohol intoxication can be harmful for a variety of reasons, including:
- Impaired brain function resulting in poor judgment, reduced reaction time, loss of balance and motor skills, or slurred speech.
- Dilation of blood vessels causing a feeling of warmth but resulting in rapid loss of body heat.
- Increased risk of certain cancers, stroke, and liver diseases (e.g., cirrhosis), particularly when excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed over extended periods of time.
- Damage to a developing fetus if consumed by pregnant women.
- Increased risk of motor-vehicle traffic crashes, violence, and other injuries.
- Coma and death can occur if alcohol is consumed rapidly and in large amounts.
It’s a scary thought, but your children could be standing there, talking about getting drunk right in front of you…and you might not even know it.
To gain clarity into your child’s involvement with alcohol, it helps to know some of the most common slang currently being used on the street (and in the suburbs) to describe alcohol and the drinking “scene”.
Here are some of the most popular slang terms for alcohol and alcohol use:
- Cold One
- Hard Stuff
Beer Bong: A device used to drink beer quickly through a hose or funnel (may also be known as “Hose Monster”).
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).
Crunked: To get high off of alcohol and marijuana at the same time.
Everclear: A dangerously potent drink with a 90 proof level (45% alcohol).
Hand Grenade: A small bottle of sweet, pre-mixed alcohol (often sold at convenience stores).
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 (also known as “Zippers”).
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.
Proof: A term referring to the amount of alcohol found in various liquor products. The “proof” number equals double the percentage of alcohol found in the product (for example: “90 proof Everclear contains 45 percent alcohol).
Watermelon: A whole watermelon that has been injected with Everclear and served.