Facts About Alcohol

General Information

The legal drinking age throughout the United States is 21!

Alcohol is a drug. A drug is simply “Any substance which when absorbed into a living organism may modify one or more of its functions.” Alcohol is the most commonly used and widely abused drug in the world.

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows the function of the central nervous system.

Alcohol affects your brain… Loss of coordination, poor judgment, slowed reflexes, distorted vision, memory lapses, and even blackouts.

Alcohol affects your body… As it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream, every organ is affected which may increase the risk of life–threatening diseases, including cancer.

Alcohol can kill you… Drinking large amounts at one time or very rapidly can cause alcohol poisoning, which can lead to coma and death.

The liver can only effectively process one (1) drink per hour.

Standard Alcoholic Drink

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

Different types of beer, wine, or malt liquor can have very different amounts of alcohol content. That’s why it’s important to know how much alcohol your drink contains.  In the United States, one “standard” drink contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer, which is usually about 5% alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12% alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40% alcohol

Although the “standard” drink amounts are helpful for following health guidelines, they may not reflect customary serving sizes. For example, a single mixed drink made with hard liquor can contain 1 to 3 or more standard drinks, depending on the type of spirits and the recipe.

Want to estimate your personal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) for a specific drink? Continue to the Blood Alcohol Content section below for a chart showing gender-specific weights and drinks to estimate your BAC.

Alcohol Energy Drinks

Potential danger comes from mixing a stimulant (caffeine) with a depressant (alcohol). Some states, communities and/or campuses have banned caffinated alcoholic beverages due to the potential dangers.

Top reasons why mixing caffeine or energy drinks with alcohol is a really bad idea:
  1. Mixing caffeine and alcohol can increase the risk of alcohol poisoning. Since caffeine makes people feel “less drunk” than they really are, they tend to drink more than they should.
  2. Mixing alcohol and caffeine can make your heart rate and blood pressure rise.
  3. Caffeine can make you feel energetic even if you’re drunk. Why is this dangerous? Because people can be “tricked” into thinking they are alert enough to do things like drive a car, when they really aren’t.
  4. Caffeine and alcohol are both diuretics, leading to dehydration (and really bad hangovers).
  5. Adding caffeine to alcohol can make drinking alcohol all the more addictive.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is a pattern of excessive alcohol use that increases a person’s blood alcohol content very rapidly. For men, binge drinking is defined as 5 or more drinks in 2 hours and for women, 4 or more drinks in 2 hours.

Binge drinking is associated with many health problems, including but not limited to:
  • Unintentional injuries (e.g., car crashes, falls, burns, drowning)
  • Intentional injuries (e.g., firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence)
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Unintended pregnancy
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • High blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases
  • Liver disease
  • Neurological damage

Blood Alcohol Content

The definition of blood alcohol content is the concentration of alcohol in one’s bloodstream, expressed as a percentage. Blood alcohol content, or BAC, is used to determine whether a person is legally intoxicated, especially in operating or attempting to operate a motor vehicle.

In Oregon, it is illegal to operate or attempt to operate a motor vehicle while having a BAC of .08% or above. If you are under 21 years of age, the Zero Tolerance Law makes it illegal to operate or attempt to operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of .02 or above.

There are many factors that can affect a person’s BAC:

  • Alcohol content of drinks consumed
  • Period of time drinks are consumed
  • Gender
  • Weight
  • Personal Health
  • Food Consumption
  • Medication

Blackouts vs. Passing Out

Blackouts, sometimes referred to as alcohol–related memory loss or “alcoholic amnesia”, occur when people have no memory of what happened while intoxicated. These periods may last from a few hours to several days. During a blackout, someone may appear to be fine; however, once sober, he/she has no recollection of events.

Passing out happens when someone loses consciousness from drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Losing consciousness means that the person has reached a very dangerous level of intoxication; furthermore, he/she could slip into a coma and die. If someone has passed out, seek immediate medical attention.

Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a serious — and sometimes deadly — consequence of consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Drinking too much too quickly can affect your breathing, heart rate and gag reflex and potentially lead to coma and death.

Signs of Alcohol Poisoning:

  • Unconscious or passed out and cannot be awakened
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Irregular, slow breathing (8 breaths or less per minute)
  • Cold, clammy, pale or bluish skin

If you or your friends are experiencing any of these symptoms while intoxicated, seek immediate help.

What to Do:

  • Call 911
  • Stay with your friend until help arrives
  • Turn your friend on his or her side
  • Monitor breathing closely

Hesitating to act can mean the difference between life and death.

What NOT to Do:

  • Leave your friend alone
  • Let your friend “sleep it off”
  • Allow your friend to drive
  • Give your friend food, liquid, medication or drugs
  • Encourage your friend to walk, run or exercise
  • Put your friend in a cold shower

You are ALWAYS doing the right thing by getting help.

Reducing Risks

Harm reduction strategies are practical and are intended to reduce the negative consequences of high risk drinking behaviors. These strategies are nonjudgmental and supportive of anyone who wants to minimize risk associated with toxic alcohol consumption.

  • Abstinence – Don’t drink alcohol
  • Alternate non–alcoholic beverages with alcoholic beverages
  • Avoid binge drinking (drinking games)
  • Explore alternatives both on–campus and off-campus
  • Keep track of all alcoholic drinks consumed
  • Know what is defined as a standard drink
  • Never leave a drink unattended
  • Pace drinks to only 1 or fewer per hour
  • Plan ahead for a safe way home (have 2–3 plans in place)
  • Stay with friends and watch out for one another
  • Utilize resources, such as a taxi or public transportation

Content graciously made available from Kansas University, Office of the Vice Provost for Student Success. Lawrence, Kansas. (785) 864-4060. https://ku.edu/