What is alcohol, and how does it affect the body?

Alcohol is a colorless liquid that is produced by the natural fermentation of sugars.  It is the ingredient found in wine, beer, liquor, and other spirits that is responsible for creating the sensation of "drunkenness".  Alcohol is classified as a depressant, meaning that when consumed it slows you down.  This is why people who have had too much to drink may have slurred speech, unsteady movement, or in extreme cases may stop breathing.

One 12oz beer has the same amount of alcohol as an 8oz glass of wine and a shot of hard liquor.

One 12oz beer has the same amount of alcohol as an 8oz glass of wine and a shot of hard liquor.

Alcohol is measured by most people in "drinks".  But what many people don't know, is that despite the apparent amount of liquid consumed, one "drink" always has the same amount of alcohol.  This can sometimes lead to people over-drinking, believing that since they haven't had as much liquid, they don't have to worry about getting too drunk.

How can youth alcohol use impact health?

Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

  • Brain development continues into a person’s mid-twenties. Alcohol can affect this development, and contribute to a variety of problems. For more information on the developing brain, visit National Institute of Mental Health and PBS Frontline Inside the Teen Brain.

  • The younger you are when you start drinking, the more likely you are to become addicted. A recent study found that among those who started drinking before age 14, 47% became alcoholics at some point in their lives. Only 9% of those who waited until age 21 became alcoholics.

  • Disrupts sleep cycles. Brain activity during sleep is important for learning and memory functions. What youth learn during the day is imprinted on the brain during sleep. Alcohol impairs the quality of sleep and can significantly diminish a person’s ability to learn and remember, even after intoxication has worn off.

  • 5,000 people under age 21 die each year from alcohol-related car crashes, homicides, suicides, alcohol poisoning, and other injuries such as falls, burns, and drowning.

  • In 2008, more than 190,000 people under age 21 visited an emergency room for alcohol-related injuries.

  • Drinking can cause youth to make poor decisions, which can result in risky behavior (i.e. drinking and driving, sexual activity, or violence). Among male perpetrators of sexual assault/rape, 64% reported using alcohol before the assault.