Alcohol use involves drinking beer, wine, or hard liquor.
Alcohol is one of the most widely used drug substances in the world.
Alcohol use is not only an adult problem. Most American high school seniors have had an alcoholic drink within the past month, despite the fact that the legal drinking age is 21 years old in the U.S.
About 1 in 5 teens are considered "problem drinkers." This means that they:
For more information, see: Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
THE EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL
Alcoholic drinks have different amounts of alcohol in them:
Alcohol gets into your bloodstream quickly.
The amount and type of food in your stomach can change how quickly this occurs. For example, high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods can make your body absorb alcohol more slowly.
Certain types of alcoholic drinks get into your bloodstream faster. A carbonated (fizzy) alcoholic drink, such as champagne, will be absorbed faster than a non-carbonated drink.
Alcohol slows your breathing rate, heart rate, and how well your brain functions. These effects may appear within 10 minutes and peak at around 40 - 60 minutes. Alcohol stays in your bloodstream until it is broken down by the liver. The amount of alcohol in your blood is called your "blood alcohol level." If you drink alcohol faster than the liver can break it down, this level will rise.
Your blood alcohol level is used to legally define whether or not you are "drunk." The blood alcohol legal limit usually falls between 0.08 and 0.10 in most states. Below is a list of blood alcohol levels and the likely symptoms.
Note: You can have symptoms of "being drunk" at blood alcohol levels below the legal definition of being drunk. Also, people who drink alcohol frequently may not have symptoms until higher blood alcohol levels are reached.
HEALTH RISKS OF ALCOHOL
Alcohol increases the risk of:
Drinking during pregnancy can harm the developing baby. Severe birth defects or fetal alcohol syndrome are possible.
If you drink alcohol, it is best to do so in moderation. Moderation means the drinking is not getting you intoxicated, or drunk, and you are drinking no more than 1 drink per day if you are a woman and no more than 2 if you are a man. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
Here are some ways to drink responsibly, provided you do not have a drinking problem, are of legal age to drink alcohol, and are not pregnant:
If you are taking medication, including over-the-counter drugs, check with your doctor before drinking alcohol. Alcohol can intensify the effects of many drugs and can interact with other drugs, making them ineffective or dangerous, or making you sick.
Do NOT drink if you have a history of alcohol abuse or alcoholism.
If alcoholism runs in your family, you may be at increased risk of developing alcoholism yourself, and may want to avoid drinking alcohol altogether.
CALL YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER IF:
Other resources include:
Beer consumption; Wine consumption; Hard liquor consumption; Safe drinking
US Preventative Services Task Force. Recommendation statement: Screening and behavioral counseling interventions in primary care to reduce alcohol misuse. Rockville, MD; April 2004.
In the clinic. Alcohol use. Ann Intern Med. 2009 Mar 3;150(5).
Updated by: A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine (3/20/2011).
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