Alcohol is a depressant. It slows the central nervous system, which worsens coordination, reaction time, and intellectual performance. High doses can interfere with respiratory function and lead to coma or death. For an interactive look at how alcohol moves through the body, go to College Drinking Prevention. What's in a drink? It depends... An average, 12-ounce can of beer with a 4% alcohol content has about the same amount of alcohol as a standard-sized shot glass of vodka or whiskey or a 5 oz. glass of wine. It's important to know how strong a drink is though, because some drinks that look like beer can have much higher alcohol content (especially micro-brews). Mixed drinks may not be measured and can contain much more than a single shot of alcohol. Grain alcohol, everclear, and 151 proof rum are much stronger than standard liquors.
What's the effect of a drink? It depends... on things like gender, consumption of food, weight, ethnicity, general health status, and family history.
- Gender makes a difference. For several reasons, women feel the effects of alcohol more than a similarly-sized man. Women's bodies break down alcohol more slowly than men's bodies. Hormonal factors can also slow down the rate that the body processes and eliminates alcohol.
- Food can affect the absorption of alcohol. Drinking on an empty stomach causes a much faster rise in blood alcohol content than drinking with meals or snacks.
- Some people of Asian descent have difficulty metabolizing alcohol.
- A family history of alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, psychological problems, or domestic violence increases the likelihood of a family member developing alcohol problems.
For more information about Blood Alcohol Content, click here.
What's are the Risks?
- Impaired judgment can cause someone who is drunk to embarrass him/herself, get hurt, throw up, or engage in risky sexual or violent behavior.
- Mixing alcohol and other drugs (even legally prescribed medications) can be life-threatening. This is particularly true with sedatives, tranquilizers, and many prescription drugs.
- Alcohol poisoning happens when a person has a dangerous level of alcohol in his/her blood, and the central nervous system begins to shut down. It usually occurs when a person consumes a large amount of alcohol very quickly. Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency and requires professional medical attention. Warning signs include loss of consciousness, vomiting, slow or irregular breathing, seizures, low body temperature.
- Aspiration pneumonia occurs when vomit gets into the lungs, causing an often deadly form of pneumonia. When passed out from drinking too much, someone can accidentally breathe in even a tiny amount of what he/she has thrown up from the stomach, into the lungs. Do not have an intoxicated person lay on his or her back.
- Drinking and driving can be a dangerous combination. In Maryland, drivers under 21 years old with a blood alcohol concentration of .02 or above can have their license suspended or revoked. For people over 21, it is illegal to drive with a BAC of .08 or above. DUI convictions carry jail time and fines. Alcohol can affect driving skills at levels of .05 or lower.
- Underage drinking is illegal in the United States. In Maryland, no one under age 21 is allowed to buy, consume, possess, or transport alcohol.
- Alcohol also has significant costs in dollars and calories. To calculate these costs visit the Alcohol Calorie Calculator.
- Alcoholism and other addictions: The brain and the central nervous system come to rely on the alcohol to function properly. A cessation of drinking produces anxiety after a few days, coupled with a desire to “have a drink”.
- Long-term risks to heavy drinking include permanent memory loss, vitamin deficiencies, skin problems, accidents, and damage to the liver, nervous system, heart, and blood vessels. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome causes problems in babies whose mothers drink alcohol during pregnancy.
- Alcohol withdrawal can be a medical emergency given the rebound effect of agitation (the shakes) where the central nervous system goes into over-drive. In the extreme, this can cause seizures and death if not caught in time.
How to Recognize if You have a Problem
If you are concerned about yourself, read the following statements and keep track of how many times they apply to you.
- It is difficult for you to stop drinking after you've had one or two drinks.
- When you drink, you always wind up drunk.
- Even after your friends say they've had enough alcohol, you want to continue drinking.
- You turn to certain "drinking buddies" or to a specific environment when you drink.
- You crave a drink at a specific time every day, like after class or after work.
- When you're out with friends, you sneak a few drinks without their knowledge.
- A significant part of your day is spent obtaining, consuming, or recovering from the effects of alcohol.
- You sometimes have a drink to help you fall asleep.
- You sometimes stay drunk for several days at a time.
- The day after drinking, you have trouble remembering what you did the night before.
- You sometimes feel guilty about your drinking.
- Most of the time, you have a hangover or headache after you've been drinking.
- When you're sober, you often regret things you said or did while you were drinking.
- After drinking, you have experienced severe anxiety, shaking, or visual or auditory hallucinations.
- Drinking has caused you to be late for class or work.
- Your performance at school or work has suffered because of your drinking.
- You have gotten into an argument or a fistfight while you were drinking.
- Your drinking has led to financial problems.
- You have neglected your classes, job, family or other obligations for two or more days in a row because you were drinking.
- You have been arrested for intoxicated behavior or driving under the influence of alcohol.
Drinking and Emotions
- When you're in a social situation and no alcohol is provided, you feel uncomfortable.
- You use alcohol as an escape when you're angry, disappointed, or otherwise upset.
- Your personality is altered when you consume alcohol.
Family and Friends
- Your family or friends have expressed concern about your drinking.
- You get irritated when your family or friends want to discuss your drinking.
- You have lost a friend or created a rift with a family member based on their feelings about your drinking.
You've tried to change
- You've promised yourself to slow down or stop drinking, but you can only keep the promise for a few days or weeks at a time.
- You have tried switching from one kind of alcohol to another in an effort to cut down or remain in control of your drinking, or to try to avoid getting drunk.
If 4 or more of these statements apply to you, you may have a problem with alcohol or have the potential to develop one. Examine your habits honestly. Patterns of heavy drinking can lead to a more serious problem down the road. You can reduce your drinking with some of the ideas listed below.
If 5 or more of these statements apply to you, there's a strong chance that you frequently misuse and abuse alcohol. Now is the time for you to change your drinking patterns and behaviors. Because of the brain development occurring in teenagers and young adults, you could be at high risk for having these habits develop into set patterns. Keep reading below and visit our "Get Help" tab for resources.
Adapted from Brown University Health Education.
How to Cut Back on Drinking
- Keep a list of your reasons for cutting back or stopping your drinking.
- Don't go out with people who make you feel uncomfortable about not drinking. If need be, make alternative plans.
- Set a limit and do not exceed it.
- If you do drink, take breaks between drinks. Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks.
- Avoid drinking games.
- Don't keep alcohol in your room or apartment.
- Keep a diary. Write down how many drinks you consume and how much it costs. Save up the cash you don't waste on alcohol to buy something special.
- Eat before you consume alcohol.
- Don't go places where you'll be bored or tempted to drink to ease social anxiety.
- Stay active. Find things to do with friends instead of drinking.
- Don't drink when you're angry, upset, or have a bad day. Find other ways to relax!
If Cutting Back on Drinking Isn’t Working
- Let others know that you have tried and it is not working.
- Seek professional guidance. Look here for resources.
- Get support from those who know about recovery from alcohol dependency.
- Attend a few Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. They are free, no obligation opportunities to learn from other people’s experiments and experiences.
- As you would with any other condition you have, learn as much as you can about alcohol or chemical dependency.