Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars and starches. It is a central nervous system depressant that is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. Alcohol prevention is key to reducing serious health problems later in life.
Alcohol affects every organ in the drinker’s body and can impair brain function and motor skills; heavy use can increase risk of certain cancers, stroke and liver disease.
According to the 2014 Monitoring the Future Survey, nine percent of 8th graders, 23.5 percent of 10th graders, and 37.4 percent of 12th graders reported past-month use of alcohol, which was significantly lower than in 2009, when rates were 14.9 percent, 30.4 percent, and 43.5 percent, respectively.
More than 5,000 people under the age of 21 die as a result of drinking each year. This includes about 1,900 deaths from car accidents, 1,600 homicides, 300 suicides and hundreds of other deaths due to accidents like falls, burns and drownings.
Short Term Effects - Alcohol affects neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are your body’s chemical messengers: they relay information to different parts of the body. Alcohol increases the levels of the neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain which causes slowed movements and reactions times, as well as slurred speech. Alcohol also inhibits the neurotransmitter glutamate, which results in further psychological slow-down. By inhibiting glutamate, alcohol increases the amount of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitters. This is what produces the pleasant feelings that occur when someone drinks.
As a person consumes alcohol, they can begin to notice:
- Impaired thinking or judgment
- Sensory delays
- Staggering, or being off-balance
- Decreased coordination/perception
- Poor decision-making
If a person continues to drink, it can result in:
Short Term Effects
- Lowered heart rate
- Memory loss/lapses
- Difficulty moving
Long Term Effects
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Liver disease/cirrhosis
- Digestive problems
- Learning/memory problems
- Lowered school or work performance
- Unintentional injuries such as burns, falls or drowning
- Legal consequences such as arrests for underage drinking or drinking while driving
- Disruption of growth and brain development
- Increased risk of unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and sexual assault
- Higher risks for suicide and homicide
What does it mean to be “drunk”?
Being drunk refers to alcohol intoxication. This includes the effects that come with drinking alcohol. Intoxication can impair brain function and motor skills; heavy use can increase risk of certain cancers, stroke and liver disease. Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is a diagnosable disease characterized by a strong craving for alcohol, and/or continued use despite harm or personal injury. Alcohol abuse, which can lead to alcoholism, is a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one’s health, interpersonal relationships or ability to work.
How does a person stop being drunk?
The only way a person will stop being intoxicated is with time. A person’s body can only process one standard drink an hour. Taking a cold shower or drinking coffee will do nothing to sober a person up.
Why do some people react differently to alcohol than others?
Each individual will have a different reaction to alcohol. This can be dependent on:
- Physical condition (height, weight, muscle mass, etc.)
- Tolerance levels
- Amount of alcohol consumed
- Family history of alcohol use
- Use of other dugs or prescription medications
For instance, women do not typically process alcohol as effectively as men. This is a matter of biology. Men tend to be larger in build, have greater blood volume, and less body fat than women. Men also have more dehydrogense, the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol before it enters the bloodstream. This means that, if a man and woman of similar weight consume the same amount of alcohol, the woman will actually have a higher amount of alcohol in her bloodstream.
What is a “hangover”?
A “hangover” refers to the unpleasant feeling that some people get after drinking. This can include symptoms such as headaches, drowsiness, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, concentration problems, dehydration, dizziness, gastrointestinal distress and sweating.
From howstuffworks.com: When alcohol is consumed, it enters the bloodstream and causes the pituitary gland in the brain to block the creation of vasopressin (also known as the antidiuretic hormone). Without this chemical, the kidneys send water directly to the bladder instead of reabsorbing it into the body. This is why drinkers have to make frequent trips to the bathroom after urinating for the first time after drinking.
According to studies, drinking about 250 milliliters of an alcoholic beverage causes the body to expel 800 to 1,000 milliliters of water; that’s four times as much liquid lost as gained. This diuretic effect decreases as the alcohol in the bloodstream decreases, but the aftereffects help create a hangover. The morning after heavy drinking, the body sends a desperate message to replenish its water supply — usually manifested in the form of an extremely dry mouth. Headaches result from dehydration because the body’s organs try to make up for their own water loss by stealing water from the brain, causing the brain to decrease in size and pull on the membranes that connect the brain to the skull, resulting in pain.
Is beer/wine safer to drink than hard liquor?
This is a common misconception. What matters with alcohol is not only the type, but the alcoholic content, the amount consumed, and the rate consumed. For most people, it takes the body about one hour to break down a standard drink. If a person consumed 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of 80 proof liquor over the course of one hour, they will have consumed the same amount of alcohol.
What is binge drinking?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as the consumption of 5 or more drinks on a single occasion for men and 4 or more drinks on a single occasion for women — generally within about 2 hours. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reports about 90% of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinks.
What does “BAC” mean?
Blood alcohol content (BAC) or blood alcohol concentration is the concentration of alcohol in blood. It is usually measured as mass per volume. For example, a BAC of 0.02% means 0.2% (permille) or 0.02 grams of alcohol per 100 grams of individual’s blood, or 0.2 grams of alcohol per 1000 grams of blood.
What is the “legal limit” for driving?
In the United States, the legal limit BAC for adults ages 21 and up is 0.08. For individuals under the age of 21, there is a zero tolerance policy: any alcohol found in someone under 21’s blood stream can result in a DUI arrest.
What is alcohol abuse?
Alcohol abuse refers to a repeated pattern of excessive alcohol use that results in harm to one’s health, interpersonal relationships, and ability to work/study. This can include not fulfilling one’s responsibilities at work, school, or home, drinking in dangerous situations such as while driving, and continuing to drink even if it damages relationships with loved ones.
What is alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a chronic disease that includes a strong craving for alcohol, the inability to limit drinking, and continued alcohol consumption despite health, social, and psychological problems.
My mom/dad has a beer/glass of wine sometimes. Does this make them an alcoholic?
No. Many adults over the age of 21 choose to consume alcohol on an occasional or regular basis. For most adults, alcohol consumption does not cause any health, social, or emotional problems. However, if your parent is ignoring their responsibilities at home or at work to drink, you should discuss it with them or another adult you trust.
How do I know if I have a drinking problem?
If you are under the age of 21, drinking is always a problem. Alcohol consumption can damage your still developing body and brain, causing life-long consequences! If a person is over the age of 21, drinking is problematic if it begins to disrupt that person’s daily life. This can include ignoring responsibilities, being absent from work or school, drinking in dangerous situations (such as driving), ignoring serious health issues, continuing to drink even if it damages relationships with loved ones, craving for alcohol and being unable to limit drinking.
HOW TO GET HELP
Talk to a trusted adult, or seek out local substance abuse treatment centers in your area for further help. A physician or a counselor can assist in finding treatment centers.
You can also seek out local self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Call Centerstone at (888) 291-HELP to schedule an appointment with a therapist. If you feel like you need immediate help, please call (800) 681-7444 for 24-hour Crisis Services.