Alcohol is produced by fermenting the starch or sugar in fruits and grains. Alcoholic drinks have different amounts of alcohol in them -- beer is about 5% alcohol, wine is usually 12 - 15% alcohol, and hard liquor is about 45% alcohol.
People have been drinking alcoholic beverages since prehistoric times. The discovery of the distillation process during the 12th century made it possible to make drinks with higher alcohol content (hard liquor) than may be achieved by fermentation alone.
Alcohol and caffeine are the two most widely used drug substances in the world. And it is NOT ONLY an adult problem. Most American high school seniors have consumed an alcoholic drink within the past month, despite the fact that the legal age is between 18 to 21 years of age across the country.
About 20% of teens are "problem drinkers." This means that they get drunk, have accidents related to alcohol use, or get into trouble with the law, family members, friends, school, or dates due to alcohol.
Up to 7% of teens are considered alcoholic (dependent on alcohol). This means that they have withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop or reduce their drinking, and drink compulsively despite negative consequences.
A person's alcohol use is primarily influenced by attitudes developed during childhood and teen years. It is impacted by the parent's attitudes and behaviors toward drinking, peer influence, society, and family relationships.
There is likely a genetic (hereditary) predisposition to alcohol use-related disorders.
THE IMMEDIATE EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL
Alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream quickly. The absorption rate depends on the amount and type of food in your stomach. For example, high carbohydrate and high fat foods lessen the absorption rates. A carbonated alcoholic drink, like champagne, will be absorbed faster.
The effects of alcohol may appear within 10 minutes and peak at approximately 40 to 60 minutes. Alcohol remains in the bloodstream until it is broken down by the liver. If a person consumes alcohol at a faster rate than it can be broken down by the liver, the blood alcohol concentration level rises.
Each state has its own legal definition for alcohol intoxication, which is defined by blood alcohol concentration. The legal limit usually falls between 0.08 and 0.10 in most states. Different levels lead to different effects:
- 0.05 -- reduced inhibitions
- 0.10 -- slurred speech
- 0.20 -- euphoria and motor impairment
- 0.30 -- confusion
- 0.40 -- stupor
- 0.50 -- coma
- 0.60 -- respiratory paralysis and death
Alcohol depresses your breathing rate, heart rate, and the control mechanisms in your brain. The effects include:
- Less ability to drive and perform complex tasks
- Reduced inhibitions, which may lead to embarrassing behavior
- Reduced attention span
- Impaired short-term memory
- Impaired motor coordination
- Prolonged reaction time
- Less rapid thought processes
If a pregnant woman drinks, alcohol can adversely affect the developing fetus causing birth defects or fetal alcohol syndrome (a devastating disorder marked by mental retardation and behavioral problems).
Alcohol increases the risks of:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Falls, drownings, and other accidents
- Suicide and homicide
- increased risk for homicide
- Risky sex behaviors, unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Fetal alcohol syndrome if a pregnant woman drinks
- Alcoholism or alcohol dependence
- Chronic liver disease
- Head, neck, stomach, and breast cancers
WHEN ABUSE BECOMES DEPENDENCE
Individuals who consume alcohol (or live with individuals who consume alcohol) may want to seek help for themselves or loved ones if the following occur in association with drinking behavior:
- Driving citations or accidents (DUI)
- decreased interest or performance levels at work, school
- Increased absenteeism from work, school
- Increased social isolation
- Increased tolerance to amount of alcohol consumed: more alcohol is needed to produce the same effect
- Inability to decrease or stop alcohol consumption
- Signs of withdrawal, such as tremors, appear when attempting to stop
- Defensive or hostile about personal alcohol use
- Lying or being secretive about alcohol use
- Neglecting appearance
- Neglecting proper nutrition
- Involved in violence, either as perpetrator or victim
It is also important to remember that some individuals are at higher risk for alcoholism due to a family history of alcoholism, stressful lifestyles, peer or cultural influences, and psychological factors such as anxiety, depression, or even low self-esteem.
CALL YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER IF
- You are concerned about your personal alcohol use or that of a family member.
- You are interested in more information regarding alcohol use, alcohol abuse, or support groups.
- You are unable to reduce or stop your alcohol consumption, in spite of attempts to stop drinking.
Other resources include local Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-anon/alateen groups (see alcoholism - resources), public or private mental health agencies, school or work counselors, student or employee health centers, and local hospitals.
Reviewed By: Christos Ballas, M.D., Attending Psychiatrist, Hospital of the University ofPennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed HealthcareNetwork.