What Is Alcohol?

Beer commercials sure make it seem like drinking is the key to fun. If only life were like commercials. It’s actually hard to know how people will act after drinking alcohol. A lot depends on the drinker's mood and where they are drinking. After a couple of drinks, one person might be more relaxed, another depressed, another more wild, another angry. In general, you'll feel more of what you were feeling before you started drinking. People who are depressed can feel even worse. Sometimes, you will feel whatever you expect the alcohol to make you feel.

What is alcohol?

The alcohol in beer, wine, shots and other drinks is a liquid made by fermenting or distilling grains, fruit or even some kinds of vegetables. The chemical name for alcohol is ethyl alcohol or ethanol. In beverages, pure alcohol is diluted with other ingredients.

Alcohol enters the bloodstream through the stomach and intestine. Once in the bloodstream, it is carried to other parts of the body quite quickly. In fact, it reaches the brain almost immediately. Judgment, inhibitions, reaction time, coordination, vision, speech, balance, walking and standing are all affected by alcohol. Alcohol stays in the body until it is metabolized (broken down) by the liver and eventually leaves the body through breath, sweat and urine.

How much is one standard drink?

A drink is a drink is a drink. A bottle of beer (341 ml/12 oz.) has the same amount of alcohol as a glass of wine (142 ml/5 oz.) or a glass of whisky (43 ml/1.5 oz.).

Is alcohol found in things other than beer, wine and liquor?

Yes, but this form of alcohol is not meant for drinking. Methyl alcohol is found in rubbing alcohol, Lysol, vanilla extract, some mouthwashes, aftershave lotions and cooking wine. This type of alcohol is a poison and should never be swallowed!

What does alcohol do exactly?

Alcohol is a downer. It might seem like alcohol makes people more relaxed, outgoing, and active, but these traits show up because alcohol is reducing the activity of the brain. Anything that lowers brain activity is a downer. This explains why alcohol slows reaction time and leads to poor judgment.

If people drink faster than their bodies can get rid of the alcohol, the alcohol builds up in their blood. To figure out how drunk a person is, you measure the alcohol in their blood. The exact level is called the blood alcohol concentration or BAC.

Your first drink starts your BAC on its way up. By .12 BAC you may be nauseous and vomiting. At .15 you are walking and talking funny. At .30 you might pass out and at .40 you can even die. But it doesn’t matter, because you were arrested and thrown in jail for impaired driving way back at .08.

The Breathalyzer

Police use a Breathalyzer to measure the amount of alcohol in your breath and use that to tell how much you’ve drank. Breath mints will make your breath a little easier to stand but they won't fool the Breathalyzer.

Dark side of Drinking

Over the long-term, heavy drinking damages the liver, heart and brain; and can lead to loss of appetite, vitamin deficiencies, stomach ailments, skin problems, weight gain, sexual problems and memory loss.

Why can't teens drink if their parents can?

Teens' bodies are still developing and alcohol has a greater impact on their physical and mental well-being. For example, people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcoholism than those who begin at age 21.

What happens when pregnant women drink?

Alcohol damages a developing baby's brain and body. This can result in fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), a term used to describe the different conditions that affect children whose mothers drank while pregnant. FASD includes disabilities that affect how a baby looks, thinks, acts and learns. These disabilities are life-long. Nobody knows what a safe level of drinking is, but it is known that the more alcohol consumed, the greater the risk of damage.

What to do

Before you take a drink:

Know the law. One drink can make you fail a breath test. If you are found to have any amount of alcohol in your system while driving a vehicle, you will lose your driver's license for 6 months or more and be subject to a fine of at least $600. A second offense can land you 14 days in jail.

Know the risks. Mixing alcohol with medications or illegal drugs is extremely dangerous and can lead to accidental death. Remember street drugs (illegal drugs) are sometimes mixed with other substances, so you may not know what you are buying. If you don't know what you're buying, you can't be sure what will happen when you mix these street drugs with alcohol. Tranquilizers and antihistamines are two types of legal drugs known to be dangerous - and in some cases fatal - when taken with alcohol.

Keep your edge. Alcohol can make you gain weight and give you bad breath.

Look around you. A lot of people don’t drink. Ask them why and see if they can give you advice on how to avoid or cope with stressful situations without turning to alcohol.

Learn to say no. It's not as hard to refuse as you might think. Try: "No thanks," "I don't drink," or "I'm not interested."

After that first drink:

Know the Signs. How can you tell if you or a friend has a drinking problem? Sometimes it's tough to tell. But there are signs you can look for. If you or a friend has one or more of the following warning signs, you or they might have a problem with alcohol:

• Problems remembering things they recently said or did

• Getting drunk on a regular basis

• Lying about how much alcohol he or she is using

• Believing that alcohol is necessary to have fun

• Having frequent hangovers

• Feeling run-down, depressed, or even suicidal

• Having "blackouts"--forgetting what he or she did while drinking

• Having problems at school or getting in trouble with the law

The true test of dependence and addiction is how you feel when you quit. If you're not sure whether your drinking is serious enough to be called alcoholism, try going a week without a single drink. If you fail - get help.

If Drinking is becoming a problem…

If you try to quit and fail, don't give up . Few people kick alcoholism at the first try. Seek help from someone on your community resource list.

If someone you know has a drinking problem . Getting a loved one to seek help can be hard, since denial of the problem is common in alcoholism. It's best to pick a time when the person has recently done something that they know is stupid because of drinking. Wait until they're sober but still feeling guilty, and approach them in a reasonable, sympathetic way. If the conversation degenerates into an argument, walk away and try another time.

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