What Is Alcohol?

Alcohol, or ethanol, is the product of fermented grains or fruits (beer and wine) that is further distilled to create “hard liquor”. Its effect is intoxication, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant..

Ethanol has been consumed as a drug for many thousands of years. Fermentation of yeast and sugars produce wine, at a higher temperature, beer is created by brewing, and distillation after fermentation is complete allows alcohol to have a higher concentration and potency.

The Basics

What it is, what does it look like, how it's abused?

In our culture, alcohol is a commodity, one that is used freely in family gatherings, at meals and celebrations of all types. We see it in movies, on television and in the homes of nearly everyone we know. Yet, there are dangers and risks with alcohol that carry a heavy burden to our society. Learn more about the basics... of drinking alcohol.

Effects of Alcohol

What it does, the physical and mental effects while high, what happens in the brain, after-effects of using alcohol.

Alcohol begins to work in the body of the drinker immediately. A drink is consumed and goes into the stomach of the drinker. As it is swallowed, alcohol becomes absorbed into the bloodstream as it enters the stomach and small intestine. Many symptoms occur as it works through the bloodstream of the drinker into their brain and other organs of the body. They become “tipsy,” perhaps giggly and somewhat silly. Others become more aggressive and serious or quiet. Their gait becomes unsteady, vision blurs, and reactions are slowed considerably. The brain of the drinker is impacted according to several factors present for the drinker. However, regular consumption increases the impact of alcohol on the human brain. Learn more about the effects... of drinking alcohol.

Alcohol Dosage and Amounts Taken

What is a regular amount of alcohol? How many drinks are "safe"?

The amount of alcohol in a given drink varies. A beer contains less alcohol than a 1-ounce shot of tequila or rum. Some mixed drinks have several shots of alcohol in them and are more impactful than a single beer or glass of wine. Depending on on the body size of the drinker, as well as other factors, such as how much food has been consumed prior to the drinking episode, one drink may affect the drinker to the point of being “under the influence.”

Dangers and Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse

What are the perils of drinking, what is the truth about alcoholism?

When alcohol is consumed regularly, over a period of time, physical and emotional dependence can occur. As alcohol is used more and more frequently, it can become a buffer for the day-to-day emotions of a person's life, giving them another way to seemingly "cope." As the drinking behaviors become habitual and constant, alcohol can take hold of a person to the point where they may no longer have a choice over drinking or not drinking. They become addicted to alcohol, a state that increases the likelihood that they will destroy brain tissue, heart muscle, their liver, become susceptible to numerous cancers, and lose precious family and friends. Their jobs and lives are destroyed, insidiously and slowly, with ongoing abuse and dependence. Learn more about the dangers and long term effects...of alcohol abuse.

Alcohol Addiction and Tolerance

How addictive is it? Is addiction a myth? Do I have a problem? Signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse and dependency

Alcohol is psychologically addictive and may become physically addictive with regular use for some people. Withdrawal symptoms may last for up to seven days when a person stops drinking. Learn more about alcohol addiction... and the effects of long-term use. Or, find out about alcohol rehab programs that can help addicts overcome their dependency.

Alcohol Overdose Symptoms, Signs, and What to Do

Can you overdose on alcohol?

Alcohol overdose, or alcohol poisoning, occurs when a person consumes four or five drinks quickly in a very short period of time. Another form of alcohol poisoning may occur when a person drinks products that contain alcohol but are not meant for consumption, such as rubbing alcohol, aftershave, or cologne. Emergency medical treatment must be sought for the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, which include: vomiting, seizures, breathing slowed to eight or fewer breaths per minute, long intervals between breaths, skin that has a blue tinge or appears very pale, clammy skin, lowered body temperature, and loss of consciousness. Not all of these symptoms need to be present. Call 911 and report a possible alcohol poisoning.

If you or someone you are with show signs of a drug overdose, calling your local emergency line is recommended. Our drug emergencies resource page has a list of US poison control centers and addiction resources that could help you in an emergency. We also recommend that you consider seeking treatment once the emergency is over.

Mixing Alcohol with Other Drugs

What are the effects of mixing alcohol with pot, amphetamines, heroin, benzodiazepines, tobacco and other prescription drugs?

Mixing alcohol with many of these drugs can be dangerous. Driving or attempting to operate machinery while under the influence is more difficult, since reaction time is slowed, and thus, driving "under the influence" is illegal. Accidental overdose occurs easily with alcohol and other system depressants. Learn more about mixing... alcohol and other substances.

Alcohol Drug Tests and Detox

What are the detection times? How long does alcohol stay in my system? Will I pass a field sobriety test?

Alcohol can be immediately detected in the system of the drinker. It remains in the system for varying lengths of time, depending on the amount consumed and the time period over which consumed. On the average, approximately 1/2 ounce of alcohol is processed through the body per hour. A 1-ounce cocktail would take two hours to burn off. Depending on whether or not food is consumed prior to drinking, the size and emotional state of the drinker; these and many other factors impact absorption of alcohol into the system.

The best idea is to not drive or operate equipment when drinking at all. Alcohol withdrawal is seldom fatal, but can produce delirium tremons, hallucinations, and muscle cramping. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, irritability, shaking, and loss of appetite. Sleep disturbances are not uncommon for many drinkers. Alcohol detox should be supervised by trained personnel for safety reasons. Learn more about alcohol blood testing and detox from alcohol.

Legality, The Laws of Sales and Use of Alcohol

When is drinking illegal? What are some of the laws governing drinking? What about DUIs? Will I have to go to meetings?

Alcohol is legal in the United States. However, states have laws governing the age of sales, where and when it can be sold, and by whom, under what conditions. Alcohol consumption by those under the age of 21 is illegal in the US, but is not elsewhere in the world. Legalities governing DUI are different from state to state. Many states recognize the level of criminal activity driven by alcohol consumption and have incorporated laws to allow treatment for alcohol dependence in lieu of prison sentencing to deter this activity. Learn more about the legal and criminal aspects... of alcohol.

Spiritual or Medicinal Use of Marijuana

Can alcohol be used for purposes other than recreational, like spiritual or medicinal?

Most social drinkers will tell you that they enjoy the effects of alcohol after a stressful business day or to relax and unwind. Many doctors now proclaim the health benefits of red wine on the heart. When not over-consumed, alcohol can be beneficial and part of many celebratory and life changing events. Many religious organizations use alcohol as part of their ceremonies and rites.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Alcohol

Find the answers to a number of questions commonly asked about alcohol and its effects, such as:

Does drinking alcohol every day make me an alcoholic? Why do I need to quit drinking when I am pregnant? Why do people drink?

What is the difference between beer and wine versus hard alcohol?

What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

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What is a blackout? I drank “one too many” and cannot remember what I did.

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