Alcohol use and safe drinking


Definition

Alcohol use involves drinking beer, wine, or hard liquor.

Alternative Names

Beer consumption; Wine consumption; Hard liquor consumption; Safe drinking; Teen drinking

Information

Alcohol is one of the most widely used drug substances in the world.

TEEN DRINKING

Alcohol use is not only an adult problem. Most American high school seniors have had an alcoholic drink within the past month. This is in spite of the fact that the legal drinking age is 21 years old in the United States.

About 1 in 5 teens are considered "problem drinkers." This means that they:

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. Stronger drinks tend to be absorbed faster.

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 to 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 rises.

Your blood alcohol level is used to legally define whether or not you are drunk. The legal limit for blood alcohol usually falls between 0.08 and 0.10 in most states. Below is a list of blood alcohol levels and the likely symptoms:

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 a higher blood alcohol level is 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.

RESPONSIBLE DRINKING

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 (350 milliliters) of beer, 5 ounces (150 milliliters) of wine, or 1.5 ounces (45 milliliters) 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 medicines, including over-the-counter drugs, check with your health care provider before drinking alcohol. Alcohol can make the effects of many medicines stronger. It can also interact with other medicines, making them ineffective or dangerous or make you sick.

If alcohol use runs in your family, you may be at increased risk of developing this disease yourself. So, you may want to avoid drinking alcohol altogether.

CALL YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER IF:

Other resources include:

References

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013.

Moyer VA; Preventive Services Task Force. Screening and behavioral counseling interventions in primary care to reduce alcohol misuse: U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2013;159(3):210-218. PMID: 23698791 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23698791.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol and your health. www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health. Accessed March 18, 2016.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol use disorder. www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders. Accessed March 17, 2016.

Sherin K, Seikel S, Hale S. Alcohol use disorders. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 48.

A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.