When a person drinks alcohol, the alcohol is absorbed by the stomach, enters the bloodstream, and goes to all the tissues. The effects of alcohol are dependent on a variety of factors, including a person's size, weight, age, and sex, as well as the amount of food and alcohol consumed. The 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. Low to moderate doses of alcohol can also increase the incidence of a variety of aggressive acts, including domestic violence and child abuse. Hangovers are another possible effect after large amounts of alcohol are consumed; a hangover consists of headache, nausea, thirst, dizziness, and fatigue. Once alcohol has been consumed, it takes 2 to 3 hours for a single drink to leave a person's system. Nothing can speed up this process, including drinking coffee, taking a cold shower, or "walking it off."
How much a person can drink safely depends on numerous factors. The smaller a person is, the more alcohol impacts them. One drink equals one 12-ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor. An adolescent girl who weighs 120 pounds will increase her blood alcohol level .04 for every drink she has, which means she will become legally intoxicated after about 2 drinks. Having more than 4 drinks will put her in a dangerous level of intoxication where she is likely to become sick or lose her memory. A guy who weighs 200 pounds will increase his blood alcohol level by about .02 with every drink he has, which means he will become legally intoxicated after about 4 drinks. Having more than 6 drinks would increase his risks of something bad happening as a result of his drinking. Most adult women should limit their drinking to 1-2 drinks, while most adult men can safely drink 2-3 drinks. Some groups should not drink at all, including:
- People under the age of 21.
- People who plan to drive or do other things that require alertness.
- People taking prescription or over-the-counter medications.
- Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
- People who have liver disease.
- People who struggle with alcoholism or drug addiction.
Alcohol is extremely dangerous when mixed with other drugs. The interaction between the alcohol and drugs can exponentially increase the effects of both the alcohol and drugs, which can result in overdosing and even death. If taking any other drugs or medications, alcohol should be avoided.
An addiction can be defined as needing to find and use the drug, even though the substance use is having a harmful effect on the individuals functioning in life. A person struggling with addiction will have their substance use having a harmful effect on their relationships with their family, schoolwork and leisure activities they do. As their substance use becomes a bigger part of their life, the use more frequent, using in larger amounts. People who are struggling with addiction spend quite a bit of time in their life, locating their drug, using their drug and then recovering from their drug use. Over several years, the person feels like they need to use just to get through the day. If they are unable to get their drugs, they begin to have withdrawal-the process of being mentally and physically sick until their body adjusts to being without drugs.
Long-term alcohol use is addictive. For some people the addiction seems to take years to emerge while other people become addicted after several months of using. When a person becomes addicted, they become physically ill when they stop drinking. Common signs of alcohol withdrawal include sweats, diarrhea, and cold sweats. In extreme cases of withdrawal, people can even have seizures and death can occur.
No. Alcoholism is only one type of an alcohol problem. Alcohol abuse can be just as harmful. A person can abuse alcohol without actually being an alcoholic – that is, he or she may drink too much and too often but still not be dependent on alcohol. Some of the problems linked to alcohol abuse include not being able to meet work, school, or family responsibilities; drunk-driving arrests and car crashes; sexual assaults and date rapes; and drinking-related medical conditions. Under some circumstances, even social or moderate drinking is dangerous – for example, when driving, during pregnancy, or when taking certain medications.
Alcohol is a powerful drug that slows down the body and mind. It impairs coordination; slows reaction time, clear thinking and judgment. People who have been drinking tend to be bad at recognizing how much alcohol has impacted them. When they have been drinking, their brain can fool them into making bad choices such as believing they are capable of driving a car when, in reality, their thinking is too impaired to safely drive. Even relatively low levels of drinking are risky enough to contribute to poor judgment, which can lead to fights, vandalism, and other poor decisions. Alcohol use can make it difficult for you to learn and contributes to memory difficulties, which can make school difficult. When consumed in high enough amounts, drinkers can experience a blackout, or not remembering the events that occurred when they had been drinking.
According to the Center for Disease Control, motor vehicle wrecks are the leading cause of death in the United States for people under the age of 24, and more than 40 percent are alcohol-related. A driver with a blood alcohol level (BAL) of .10 or greater is seven times more likely to be involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident than a driver who has not consumed alcoholic beverages. A driver with a BAL of .15 or greater is 25 times more likely to be in a fatal traffic accident. The more you drink, the more likely you are to have an accident and that could very well be a fatal accident. It is important to realize that most people who drive under the influence are not alcoholic or problem drinkers. They are people who have had too many drinks to safely drive. Since alcohol depresses the nervous system, reacting to events is slowed down. This leads to driving events like not stopping for red lights and people in other cars who are turning. Drinking also impairs judgment, which can contribute to difficulties judging time and distances between your car and other things. When alcohol is mixed with marijuana, the risk of getting into a motor vehicle accident doubles.
The higher the blood alcohol level, the more dangerous drinking becomes. Most people will experience drinking as a positive experience if they limit their drinking to 2-3 drinks. When the blood alcohol level (BAL) starts to rise over .125, the negative consequences of drinking increases significantly. Around a BAL or .15, the drinker begins to feel sad or irritable, around .20 they begin to feel nausea, vomit and begin having blackouts. Around .30 the drinker is passing out and not responding to things going on around them. This makes female drinkers vulnerable to sexual assaults and acquaintance rapes. Around .32 the drinker will enter a coma, and death can occur when the BAL reaches between .35 and .40.
Alcohol is extremely dangerous when mixed with other drugs. The interaction between the alcohol and drugs can exponentially increase the effects of both the alcohol and drugs, which can result in overdosing and even death. Even a few drinks will impair the drinker's judgment and result in diminished reaction times. This means driving or riding in a car with a driver who has been drinking is incredibly risky and should be avoided.
People drink for a variety of different reasons. Most people who drink develop the belief that drinking is going to do something beneficial for them. These anticipated benefits are known as positive expectations of using, because even before the using episode occurs, the drinker has convinced them the drinking will be a positive experience. Several common positive expectations of drinking include:
- Drinking helps me deal with stress and problems in my life
- Drinking is fun and helps me have a good time
- Drinking helps me fit in to a certain group of people
- Drinking helps me socialize better
- Drinking helps me be sexual
- Drinking helps me escape the boredom of life
- Drinking helps me feel mature
- Drinking helps me perform a physical task better
When teenagers have positive experiences with alcohol use, they tend to remember the positive aspects of drinking, which increases their tendency to drink more. Although moderate drinking has some positive aspects, the larger the amount of alcohol consumed, the more likely negative consequences will occur.
The safest strategy for a teenager is to not drink alcohol. For people who make the decision to drink despite the associated risk factors, there are several strategies to drink safer:
- Keep track of the number of drinks you were having
- Determine in advance not to exceed a set number of drinks
- Pace your drinks to 1 or fewer per hour
- Avoid drinking games
- Keep track of your own drink and don't accept drinks from strangers
- Alternate non-alcoholic with alcoholic beverages
- Drink beverages that look like alcohol
- Choose not to drink-even drinkers decide not to drink at times
- Eat before and/or during drinking
- Use a designated driver
- Have a friend let you know when you have had enough"
The more strategies you use, the less likely you are to have significant negative consequences. Just remember, the only real way to protect yourself from the consequences of drinking is to not drink at all.