Alcohol is the most commonly used drug. It is popular, socially accepted and legal, but it is the most frequent cause of individual and family conflict, pain and suffering.


What is Alcohol?

Ethanol, commonly referred to as alcohol, is an impairing liquid substance that is legal only for people who are 21 or older. Alcohol is a depressant that comes from organic foods such as grapes, grains and berries are fermented and distilled into a liquid.


What are the short term effects?

Alcohol affects every part of the body. It is carried through the bloodstream to the brain, stomach, internal organs, liver, kidneys, muscles – everywhere. It is absorbed in as few as 5-10 minutes and can continue to affect the body for several hours until it is completely metabolized.

Alcohol affects the central nervous system and brain – it causes many users to feel more relaxed and comfortable, but for some it make them more aggressive. Other effects of moderate alcohol intake include dizziness and talkativeness; the immediate effects of a larger amount of alcohol include slurred speech, disturbed sleep, nausea, and vomiting. Alcohol, even at low doses, significantly impairs the judgment and coordination required to drive a car safely. Hangovers are another possible effect after large amounts of alcohol are consumed; a hangover consists of headache, nausea, thirst, dizziness, and fatigue.

Unfortunately, while alcohol is impairing the user’s mental and physical functioning, it is also lowering their inhibitions and allows for poor judgement, which can set the stage for embarrassing or dangerous behavior. In fact, each year approximately 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking. This statistic includes about 1,900 deaths from motor vehicle accidents; 1,600 homicides; 300 suicides; and hundreds of others stemming from injuries such as falls, burns and drownings (source: NIAAA).


What are the long term effects?

Prolonged, heavy use of alcohol can lead to addiction (alcoholism). Sudden sobriety in a long term, extensive alcohol user is likely to produce withdrawal symptoms, including severe anxiety, tremors, hallucinations and convulsions. Long-term effects of consuming large quantities of alcohol, especially when combined with poor nutrition, can lead to permanent damage to vital organs such as the brain and liver. In addition, mothers who drink alcohol during pregnancy may give birth to infants with fetal alcohol syndrome. These infants may suffer from mental deficits and other irreversible physical abnormalities. In addition, research indicates that children of alcoholic parents are at greater risk than other children of becoming alcoholics because of their genetic link to addiction.

As a parent, you should know that underage drinking can have serious consequences. The teenage brain is still developing – it will continue to develop until the mid-twenties! For this reason, the brain is not physically prepared to withstand alcohol during the teen years. Underage drinking also increases the risk for addiction. One in four people who start drinking before the age of 15 develop alcoholism at some point in their lives.


Are there guidelines for adults to drink safely?

Yes! Research tells us that it is safe for most adults to consume up to three standard drinks in a day, spacing those drinks one hour apart. A standard drink is the amount of alcohol which the average adult body can metabolize in one hour. Each of the following amounts of different types of alcohol are equal to one standard drink:

* One 12-ounce bottle/can of beer or wine cooler

* One 5-ounce glass of wine

* 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor

Many people hold the belief that liquor is more intoxicating that beer, but that’s not entirely true. Liquor is more concentrated, so it may be consumed faster, but one shot of liquor is equal to one glass of wine or one bottle of beer in the amount of alcohol it contains. The catch, however, is that liquor is often consumed in mixed drinks, and mixed drinks infrequently contain just one shot.

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Information sourced from The Partnership at DrugFree.org

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