Alcohol is a depressant, which slows down thinking and actions. It acts on the brain and affects all parts of the body. An average-size person's liver can break down about one drink per hour; the rest of the alcohol circulates throughout the body, affecting behavior, judgment, perception, and motor skills. Smaller-size people, women, younger or older people, and those who are ill will feel stronger effects from the same amount of alcohol than larger people, middle-aged adults, or people who are in good physical health. People with a history of alcoholism in their family may also be affected differently than people who have no history of alcoholism in their family.
Abuse of alcohol can cause damage to many of the body's organs. Researchers report damage to brain tissue, heart muscle, and reproductive organs in both males and females. Alcohol may cause the drinker's blood pressure to rise, putting him or her at risk for heart attack and stroke. Ethanol, the intoxicating ingredient in beverage alcohol, is water soluble and washes rapidly through every organ of the body. Ethanol sedates the inhibiting and suppressing mechanisms of the brain and central nervous system. The adolescent is more vulnerable to the toxic effects of ethanol because of immature brain and body systems.
An estimated 1 of 6 children live in families with alcoholic members, which increases their odds for alcoholism. The metabolic changes and immaturity of adolescents, coupled with current practices of early and heavy (binge) drinking, accelerate the development of alcoholism. Teens often have poor nutrition and erratic eating habits (salty snacks and junk food, eating on the run, fad diets), which diminish the body's defense against alcohol. The high incidence of "blackouts" (memory losses) reported by teens after drinking parties suggests a stronger brain effect than reported by adults. Moreover, teen drinkers tend to use other drugs, which intensify the negative effects of alcohol. The young drinker "crosses the wall" into addiction much faster and with more damaging effects than the adult drinker. Youngsters may become alcoholic in 6 months to 3 years, versus the 10 to 15 year pattern for adults. An estimated 20 to 30 percent of teenage drinkers are potential or complete alcoholics. Over one-third of America's alcoholics (3.3 million) are under the legal drinking age.
Teenagers often have difficulty becoming safe drivers even when they are sober. Their natural impulsiveness, risk-taking, and attention deficits are often compounded by playing loud music, changing radio stations, and joking with passengers. Thus, even non-drinking drivers between 16 and 22 have a higher rate of accidents than older drivers. When teens drink, they greatly multiply the accident, injury, and fatality rate. Very low blood-alcohol rates ("just one beer") can significantly impair the skills of the inexperienced, still-learning driver. Alcohol-related wrecks cause 45% of the deaths of 15-19 years old.Adolescent alcohol use is also implicated in injuries and deaths, caused by falls, collisions, fighting, drowning, exposure to weather, inhalation of carbon monoxide, inhalation of vomit, and alcohol poisoning. Popular party slogans ("party 'til you puke") and games (chug contests, drink and drown, and funneling) can cause death by overdose. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), 2.6 million young people do not know that a person can die of an overdose of alcohol. Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person drinks a large quantity of alcohol in a short amount of time.
A standard drink is:
One 12-ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler
One 5-ounce glass of wine
1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits
One wine cooler
Signs of alcohol use may include;
Alcohol odor on the breath
Difficulty focusing: glazed appearance of the eyes
Uncharacteristically passive behavior or combative and argumentative behavior
Gradual decline in personal appearance and hygiene
Gradual development of difficulties, especially in school work or job performance
Absenteeism (particularly on Monday)
Unexplained bruises and accidents
Loss of memory (blackouts)
Changes in peer-group associations and friendships
Impaired interpersonal relationships (unexplainable termination of relationships, and separation from close family members)
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) develops educational resources and materials on drugs of abuse.
The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information has information on alcohol and other substances of abuse.
Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) Office of Applied Studies (OAS) provides the latest national data on alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drug abuse.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) provides a wealth of information about research and resources on alcohol.
The Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free is a unique coalition of Governors' spouses, Federal agencies, and public and private organizations. This is an initiative to prevent the use of alcohol by children ages 9 to 15.
College Drinking: Changing the Culture, created by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), provides research-based information on issues related to alcohol abuse and binge drinking among college students.
The Cool Spot is an interactive site designed for young people, featuring FAQs, statistics, and other information.