10 - Alcohol

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Terms in this set (...)

Facts about alcohol
You may not think of alcohol as a drug, but it is. A drug is a chemical substance that is taken to cause changes in a person's body or behavior.
Alcohol is a depressant
Alcohol acts as a powerful depressant. A depressant (dih PRES unt) is a drug that slows brain and body reactions. In slowing the body's normal reactions, alcohol may cause confusion, decreased alertness, poor coordination, blurred vision, and drowsiness.

The depressant effects of alcohol are very strong. If a person drinks large amounts of alcohol, vital functions such as heartbeat and breathing can be seriously affected. Death can result.

4 ounces of whiskey
Alcohol prevention
The alcohol in beverages such as beer, wine, and liquor is produced by the process of fermentation. During fermentation, microorganisms called yeast feed on the sugars in foods such as malted grains, grapes, or berries. In the process, carbon dioxide and alcohol are produced.
Alcohol content
Not all alcoholic beverages contain the same amount of alcohol. The alcohol content of alcoholic beverages typically ranges from 4 percent to 50 percent.

Beverages with a greater percentage of alcohol, such as whiskey, gin, and rum, list their proof on the label. To calculate alcohol content from proof, divide by two. Thus 100-proof vodka is 50 percent alcohol.
teens and adults
For teens and others under the age of 21, using alcohol is illegal. In addition, many schools have adopted a zero-tolerance policy. Under such a policy, students face stiff consequences—including suspension—starting with the first time they are caught with alcohol or other drugs. Even so, alcohol is the most widely abused drug among high school students.

What influences teens' decisions about drinking? The attitudes of peers, family, and the media strongly influence underage drinking. Teens who refuse alcohol avoid the serious health and legal risks of this dangerous drug.
influence of peers
Some teens say they drink to fit in, or just to do what their classmates seem to be doing. Teens often mistakenly believe that everyone is drinking. In fact, millions of teens never use alcohol.

Teens who choose friends who avoid alcohol will have an easier time refusing it themselves. Some teens refuse because they have a friend with an alcohol problem and don't want to turn out that way. Some teens refuse because they know a friend or family member who was killed because of drinking.
influence of family
Teens report that parents and other family members are important influences on their decisions about alcohol. A majority of teens want their parents' guidance in making decisions about alcohol use. Although your parents may seem tough on you, their rules and advice can help you steer clear of alcohol and other drugs.
influence of the media
Alcohol's wide availability makes it relatively easy to obtain. Alcohol use is also seen as generally acceptable in people who are over 21—even though it can be dangerous at any age.

Companies that sell alcohol bombard the public with advertisements for beer, wine, liquor, and other beverages. Television commercials and magazine ads often show drinkers in beautiful outdoor settings, at fun-filled parties, or enjoying sports. Although the ads never show underage drinking, the scenarios tend to appeal to teens as much as to adults.

Usually the message accompanying an alcohol ad says nothing about the product. Unlike ads for some drugs, alcohol ads are not required to list negative side effects. Instead, the ads promote a one-sided image of drinkers as athletic, healthy, and successful. The ads give the false impression that drinking will make you more popular and attractive.
risks of underage drinking
Teen alcohol use can have very serious consequences. In fact, alcohol is a huge factor in injury deaths, the leading cause of death among teens. Teens who use alcohol increase their risk of the following:

Being injured or killed in a motor vehicle crash
Committing or being the victim of sexual assault or other violence
Long-term brain damage
Problems with alcohol later in life
Suspension from school, sports teams, or other school activities
legal risks
Laws prohibiting minors—people under the age of 21—from buying or possessing alcohol are enforced with heavy fines and lawful seizure of property. For example, law-enforcement officers in some states can seize a car in which a minor is in possession of alcohol. Selling alcohol to someone under the age of 21 is a criminal offense for the seller. In many states, it is against the law to serve alcohol to people under the legal drinking age, even at a private party.

People found to be driving under the influence of alcohol may have their driver's licenses taken away or face other stiff penalties. In some states, those found guilty repeatedly can be sent to prison. You will learn more about driving laws in the next lesson.
physcial and behavioral effects
When a person drinks alcohol, the alcohol follows the same pathway through the digestive system as food. But unlike food, alcohol does not have to be digested in the stomach before it is absorbed into the blood. Thus, alcohol gets into a person's bloodstream within minutes of being consumed. Once in the blood, alcohol circulates throughout the body, where it has widespread effects.
effects on body systems
When people drink alcohol faster than the body can break it down into harmless compounds they become intoxicated. Intoxication is the state in which a person's mental and physical abilities are impaired by alcohol or another substance. Many negative effects on a drinker's body and behavior accompany intoxication by alcohol. Some of these effects are shown on the next screen.
effects on behavior
As intoxication takes effect, drinkers begin to lose judgment and self-control. At the same time, alcohol decreases drinkers' natural fears. When these two effects are combined, drinkers may behave in ways they normally would never consider. For example, a person under the influence of alcohol may express anger in violent or destructive ways. Shy people may behave in outgoing ways, and serious people may act foolishly.

A person who drinks a lot of alcohol may suffer a blackout. A blackout is a period of time that the drinker cannot recall. Other people may recall seeing the drinker talking, walking, and seemingly in control. The following day, however, the drinker may have no memory of some events from the day before. The drinker may harm others or be harmed during a blackout. Blackouts can happen to first-time drinkers as well as to experienced drinkers.
blood alcohol concentration
Two people who drink the same amount of alcohol may not be equally affected. Why? The effects of alcohol depend on how much is actually circulating in a person's bloodstream. This amount is termed the blood alcohol concentration (BAC). BAC is the amount of alcohol in a person's blood, expressed as a percentage. For example, a BAC of 0.1 percent means that one-tenth of 1 percent of the fluid in the blood is alcohol.

The higher a person's blood alcohol concentration, the more severe the physical and behavioral effects. Blood alcohol concentration is a more reliable measure of intoxication than the number of drinks consumed.

As blood alcohol concentration increases, physical and behavioral effects get more and more severe.
factors affecting BAC
A variety of factors affect a drinker's BAC. The rate of alcohol consumption, the gender and size of the drinker, and how much food is in the stomach all affect BAC.

Rate of Consumption A person's liver chemically breaks down, or metabolizes, alcohol at a fairly constant rate. That rate is about one half to one ounce of alcohol per hour—the approximate amount of alcohol in one can of beer, one shot of liquor, or one glass of wine. Therefore, people who have a few drinks in one hour have a higher BAC than people who drink the same amount over several hours.

Gender At the same rate and amount of alcohol consumption, males generally will have a lower BAC than females. This is because, for males, a larger portion of the alcohol gets metabolized in the stomach before it enters the bloodstream. In addition, the liver is more efficient at metabolizing alcohol in males.

Body Size In general, smaller people—by weight and height—feel the effects of alcohol more than larger people. They will have a higher BAC after a similar number of drinks.

Amount of Food in the Stomach Drinking on an empty stomach increases the rate of alcohol absorption into the bloodstream. A higher BAC will result.
after drinking ends
Once a person stops drinking, BAC begins to decrease. The intoxicating effects of alcohol slowly diminish, and the person's reflexes and coordination return to normal. Many people refer to this process as "becoming sober" or "sobering up."

You may have heard that cold showers, exercise, fresh air, or coffee will help a person sober up more quickly. But this is not true. Nothing can speed the liver's ability to break down alcohol. Fresh air may keep a person awake, but it does not eliminate the intoxicating effects of alcohol.
hangovers
Drinking heavily usually causes a person to wake up the next day with a hangover. Hangover is a term used to describe the aftereffects of drinking too much alcohol. Symptoms of a hangover include nausea, upset stomach, headache, and a sensitivity to noise. It is not clear why some drinkers get a hangover and others do not. The only way a person can be sure to prevent one is to avoid alcohol altogether.
life-threatening effects
The short-term effects of intoxication can put a drinker at serious risk. Intoxication increases the risk of death from motor vehicle crashes, alcohol overdose, and interactions of alcohol with other drugs.
motor vehicle crashes
Alcohol is involved in about 40 percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes. Driving can be impaired by any amount of drinking, even if it falls below legal limits.

Alcohol especially impairs the driving skills of underage drinkers. Because of their relative lack of driving experience, underage drivers are already more likely to crash, even without the influence of alcohol. The effects of alcohol and driving inexperience together are a particularly dangerous combination.
driving under the influence
A driver over age 21 caught driving with a BAC that exceeds the legal limit of 0.08 is charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI). Law enforcement officers often measure BAC with a breath alcohol testing device. The device measures the alcohol level in the breath from the lungs, from which BAC is accurately estimated. Or a blood sample may be drawn and tested directly. People whose BAC is above the legal limit can have their driver's license taken away and can be prosecuted. They may have to pay stiff fines or serve jail time.
zero tolerance laws
For drivers under the age 21, the law is different. The purchase and possession of alcohol by minors is already illegal. Therefore, there is no acceptable BAC for underage drivers. Laws vary a little from state to state, but in all cases, it is illegal for minors to drive after consuming any amount of alcohol. The penalties for underage drivers may be more strict than those for other drivers.
overdose
Taking an excessive amount of a drug that leads to coma or death is called an overdose. Alcohol overdose, also called alcohol poisoning, can cause the heart and breathing to stop. Many drinkers assume that they will pass out before drinking a fatal amount. This is not necessarily true. Alcohol continues to be absorbed into the blood for 30 to 90 minutes after a person's last drink. The drinker's BAC can increase even if the drinker becomes unconscious.

A person need not be a regular drinker or an alcoholic to die from an overdose. Even someone drinking for the first time can overdose and die from binge drinking. Binge drinking is the consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol at one sitting. Binge drinking is a particular problem among underage drinkers, who may consume many drinks on a bet or dare, or during a "drinking game." Binge drinking also affects teens more severely than older drinkers—teens enter comas at lower blood alcohol concentrations than adults.
interactions with other drugs
Sometimes, two drugs can interact to produce effects that are greater than either drug would produce by itself. Recall that alcohol is a depressant drug. When a person drinks alcohol and takes another depressant, such as sleeping pills, the combination can cause drastic changes in the body. Together, the two depressants' effects are more than doubled and can dangerously slow breathing and heart rates. In extreme cases, combining alcohol and other depressants leads to coma or death.
damage to the body
Adults over age 21 who use alcohol responsibly usually are not at risk of developing long-term health problems related to alcohol. But heavy drinking can cause serious damage to the body over time. Long-term alcohol abuse may harm the brain, liver, heart, and digestive system. Furthermore, drinking any amount of alcohol during pregnancy may permanently harm the developing baby.
brain damage
Long-term alcohol abuse destroys nerve cells in the brain. Destroyed nerve cells usually cannot grow again. The loss of many nerve cells causes permanent changes that impair memory, the ability to concentrate, and the ability to make sound judgments. These losses interfere with normal everyday functions.

Effects on the brain can be especially damaging for underage drinkers. When teens drink, they expose the brain to alcohol during a critical time in its development. Teenage drinkers may suffer long-term learning and memory problems.
fetal alcohol syndrome
Pregnant women who drink put the health of their future children at risk. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a group of birth defects caused by the effects of alcohol on an unborn child.

Babies born with this syndrome may suffer from heart defects, malformed faces, delayed growth, poor motor development, and mental retardation. Some show only brain and behavioral problems, without the other physical effects.

Tragically, drinking during pregnancy is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation in the United States. Even small amounts of alcohol consumed during pregnancy can cause brain damage. Any woman who is planning to become pregnant, or who is already pregnant or breast-feeding, should not drink any alcohol.
liver damage
Alcohol interferes with the liver's ability to metabolize fats. As a result of heavy drinking, the liver begins to fill with fat, which blocks the flow of blood in the liver. The fat-filled liver cells die, leaving behind scar tissue. This disease, called cirrhosis (sih ROH sis), may lead to liver failure and death.

Heavy drinkers also may suffer from alcoholic hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver caused by alcohol. It too can cause death.
heart disease
Excessive drinking contributes to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Over time, alcohol causes increased blood pressure and heart rate, irregular heartbeat, and a buildup of fatty deposits in the heart muscle.
digestive problems
Ongoing drinking also irritates the tissues that line the digestive system, causing inflammation. Repeated irritation increases the risk of

cancers of the mouth, tongue, esophagus, and stomach.
recurring diarrhea.
chronic indigestion, heartburn, or ulcers.
alcoholism
People who can no longer control their use of alcohol suffer from the disease known as alcoholism. Physically, an alcoholic's body requires alcohol to function. Psychologically, alcoholics consider drinking a regular, essential part of coping with daily life.
changes to the brain
With repeated use of alcohol, its effects in the brain become reduced—the body has developed tolerance to alcohol. Tolerance causes a drinker's body to need increasingly larger amounts of alcohol to achieve the original effect.

With increasing tolerance, the body will eventually develop dependence—the brain develops a chemical need for alcohol and cannot function normally without it. Finally, addiction results—the drinker no longer has control over his or her drinking. Alcohol addiction is characterized by a craving, or strong emotional need, to use alcohol.

Because alcoholics can no longer control their alcohol use, they must receive help to recover from this disease. Scientists have found that during addiction, the structure and the chemistry of the brain changes—addiction is a disease of the brain.
who is at risk?
Anyone who drinks is at risk of becoming an alcoholic. However, some people seem to be at higher risk than others. For example, alcoholism is four to five times more common among the children of alcoholics than in the general population. The reason for this is likely a combination of the influence of genetics and the environment in which a person grows up.

Attitudes towards drinking and the availability of alcohol in the home play a strong role in determining whether or not a person will develop a drinking problem. Underage drinking also increases a person's risk of becoming an alcoholic.
signs of alcoholism
Alcoholics progress through several stages as their dependence strengthens. What begins as problem drinking becomes absolute dependence, and finally, late-stage alcoholism. Each stage may last weeks, months, or years. Teenage alcoholics tend to go through the stages faster than adult alcoholics.
stage 1: problem drinking
Even a "social drinker"—someone who occasionally drinks small amounts with meals, at parties, or on special occasions—can become an alcoholic. If social drinkers start to use alcohol to try to relieve stress or escape from problems at home, school, or work, their drinking habit may quickly become a problem.
stage 2: absolute dependence
At this stage, the drinker becomes totally dependent on the drug. Alcohol dominates the drinker's life. He or she usually cannot stop after one drink, and feels a constant need to drink.

Some alcoholics are able to hide their problem and appear to be fine. Others show signs of excessive alcohol consumption. Signs of alcoholism may include frequent absences from work or school and strained relationships.
stage 3: late stage of alcoholism
During this stage, alcoholics rapidly lose their mental, emotional, and physical health. Because their entire lives revolve around drinking, they become isolated from society. Late-stage alcoholics also experience reverse tolerance for alcohol, a condition in which less and less alcohol causes intoxication.

Serious health problems, including malnutrition, liver and brain damage, cancer, lung disease, and heart disease, are common among alcoholics. Without medical and psychological help, an alcoholic may die.
effects on others
Alcohol abuse and alcoholism affect many people other than the drinker. Consider some of the financial and emotional costs to society and individual families.

Alcohol-related crimes, medical expenses, injuries, lost productivity on the job, and treatment programs cost the United States between 100 and 200 billion dollars annually.

Alcohol is involved in approximately 150,000 deaths per year. Most of these deaths are due to violence committed under the influence of alcohol and to motor vehicle crashes involving drunk drivers.

About one in every eight Americans grows up in an alcoholic family. Spouses and children of alcoholics live in homes filled with stress arising from uncertainty and embarrassment.

In some cases, alcoholics verbally or physically abuse family members. Family life centers around the drinking member as the needs of other family members are ignored.
treating alcoholism
With appropriate treatment, the progress of alcoholism can be stopped. Alcoholics can lead productive, happy lives if they stop drinking completely. There are three stages in an alcoholic's recovery: acknowledging the problem, detoxification, and rehabilitation
acknowledging the problem
In the first step of recovery, alcoholics must acknowledge their problem and ask for help. For some alcoholics, the shock of losing a job, being arrested, or being separated from their families motivates them to enter a treatment program.
detoxification
The next step in recovery is detoxification, which involves removing all alcohol from a person's body. The alcoholic will suffer from withdrawal, a group of symptoms that occur when a dependent person stops taking a drug. Withdrawal symptoms last from three to seven days. They include shakiness, sleep problems, irritability, rapid heartbeat, and sweating. The drinker also may see, smell, or feel imaginary objects. Severe withdrawal symptoms can be extremely dangerous, requiring medical care or a hospital stay.
rehabilitation
After detoxification, the recovering alcoholic begins rehabilitation—the process of learning to cope with everyday living without alcohol. During rehabilitation, alcoholics receive counseling to help them understand their disease and behavior. In some cases, the recovering alcoholic takes medications that may help prevent a return to alcohol use.
support groups
Community, religious, and health organizations often sponsor support groups for alcoholics. In one of the most successful groups, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), recovering alcoholics offer encouragement and support to help other alcoholics stop drinking.

Two other groups, Al-Anon and Alateen, are designed to help friends and family members of alcoholics. Al-Anon helps adult friends and family members learn how they can help in the alcoholic's recovery process. Alateen provides help for teenagers living with alcoholics. You can find the phone numbers for local AA, Al-Anon, and Alateen groups on the Internet or in a telephone book.
abstaining from alcohol
You know that underage drinking is illegal and could risk your health and future plans. The best decision you can make is to abstain from alcohol, meaning not to drink at all. Once you turn 21, drinking will no longer be illegal, but the risks will remain. Many adults abstain from, or choose not to drink, alcohol.

At different times in your life—now or years from now—you will likely find yourself in situations where you are pressured to drink when you don't want to. How will you stick to your decision? Sticking to your decision not to drink means being able to say no with confidence in situations where other people are drinking.

The skills needed to say no are sometimes referred to as refusal skills. Refusal skills are especially important when others are pressuring you to do something against your will. You will feel better about yourself by sticking to your beliefs.
prepare for pressure
To prepare yourself for the pressure you may face, ask yourself the following questions:

What are my reasons for not drinking alcohol at this time in my life?
How can I come across as confident in my decision?
In what situations will I most likely encounter pressure to drink?
Why are my friends pressuring me to drink?
Are there other friends who can help me stick to my decision?

You may want to practice saying no in role-playing situations with friends or classmates. That way you can develop the refusal skills you will need in actual social situations.
stick to your decision
You may find that some people will not accept your decision not to drink. Many people who drink want to see others around them drink so that they can feel accepted.

Remember that you never need to apologize for not drinking. Most people will respect your decision, especially if you are clear in your response.
avoiding high-pressure situations
Besides using refusal skills, teens who choose not to drink also do something else that's smart: they stay away from situations where alcohol is present. Avoiding situations in which alcohol is present will help you stay alcohol free. It will also help you avoid related risks, like being injured by someone who has been drinking.
alternatives to parties
Teenagers who abstain from alcohol are likely to participate in healthy activities. Think about the kinds of activities that interest you. You may be interested in sports, hobbies, playing an instrument, helping an organization raise money, or organizing a school activity. Try taking up a new activity or spending more time with a current activity as an alternative to parties.
refusing rides from drinkers
Even if you don't drink alcohol, you may have to deal with people who have had too much to drink. Remember that intoxicated people must not be allowed to drive. The driver may be a friend, a relative, or the parent of a child for whom you babysit. You should never get into a car with anyone who has been drinking. Don't worry about being rude—your life is more important than the driver's feelings. You should also do everything you can to prevent that person from driving.

If you find yourself dependent on a drinker for a ride home, ask someone for help. Some teens have an understanding with a parent or other adult that they can call for a ride home, no questions asked. Do not risk riding with an intoxicated driver.