A Guide To Alcohol

A guide to what it is, how it works, and how it can affect you and your friends.

What is Alcohol?

Alcohol is a drug, and as a drug it affects the way you think, feel, and behave.

Alcohol is a Central Nervous System depressant; it slows down everything the brain does.

In whatever form you drink alcohol, one drink is considered a 12 oz. bottle of beer, a 4-5 oz. glass of wine, a 1 oz. shot of liquor; it contains about the same amount of pure alcohol (2 oz.)

Alcohol is a drug that enters the bloodstream without being broken down in the stomach by the digestive system. Therefore alcohol gets to the brain quickly (unless there is enough food in the stomach to slow it down).

How Does Alcohol Get To the Brain?
While some alcohol gets into the bloodstream directly through the lining of the stomach, most goes to the small intestine and enters the bloodstream from there. Once in the bloodstream alcohol circulates throughout the body and it can begin to affect you within several minutes.

What are the Effects of Alcohol?
Alcohol can affect you in three ways and the effects will differ with each person, depending upon gender, size, previous experience with alcohol, feeling at the time, and how much and how quickly you drink.

Alcohol affects how you feel.
With 1-2 drinks you begin to get a warm, relaxed feeling. You may feel stimulated because alcohol reduces inhibitions. With three drinks (in one hour) motor coordination is affected. Although you may feel you can drive a car, it is very risky. Speech is also impaired and you can become noisy and possibly aggressive.

The more alcohol you drink, the greater the effect on your behavior. Since each person is different, you can use an alcohol chart, which is based on your body size, to calculate your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

Alcohol affects how you act.
With one or two drinks you may act in a more outgoing manner. As inhibitions are lowered, it may become easier to talk to others.

Some of us use alcohol and other drugs to enhance our socialization and our sexual activity. The stress involved in making decisions about what we want to do sexually may feel relieved with alcohol or other drugs. Still, some of us may feel fearful, guilty, inhibited, or that it's not okay to have sex, so use alcohol or drugs to make the decision for us. Decisions based on the use of alcohol and other drugs can contribute to your neglecting contraception, safer sex, having regretted sex, or being forced to have sex against your will.

Alcohol affects the body systems.
In the stomach, alcohol at first will give warm sensation that may stimulate appetite. This can become a burning feeling if too much alcohol is put into the stomach.

Alcohol travels through the body in the bloodstream and thus to every part of the body. Alcohol causes a shift in the blood supply to different parts of the body. Although the body temperature is actually going down, you feel warmer. Drinking alcohol while skiing, for example, increases the risk of hypothermia.

The liver is the organ that breaks down (metabolizes) alcohol to eliminate it from the body. As long as you do not overburden it with too much alcohol at once, the liver will continue to function. It takes the liver at least one hour to metabolize the alcohol in one drink.

Alcohol is a depressant drug, which decreases the pulse and breathing rate. If you drink too much alcohol in a short space of time, you may go into a coma and your heart and breathing can stop.

Other Factors:
Gender makes a difference. Women tend to have more fat by body weight and thus less water. Alcohol is not as diluted in a woman's body and she may feel the effects of alcohol more quickly.

Mood is exaggerated by the use of alcohol. If you are depressed while drinking, you may become more depressed. Taking other drugs can increase the effect of both the alcohol and the other drug, especially if the other drug is also a depressant, such as a tranquilizer or antihistamine.

Expectations of the effect of alcohol will also influence what happens. If you expect that alcohol will make you more outgoing, then that is probably what will happen.

What Is BAC?
BAC stands for Blood Alcohol Concentration.
This is a measure of the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. Your BAC depends upon the amount of alcohol ingested in a specific time.

Four drinks taken within one hour will generally give an average male (150-175 lbs.) a maximum BAC of .09% and he could be charged for being legally impaired. If you are smaller or female, then your BAC will be proportionally higher.

At A Party
Responsible party givers provide and encourage the use of nonalcoholic drinks and food.

Responsible party givers are prepared to help guests who drink more than they should by letting them stay overnight, assisting them to find a safe way home, or helping them decide when to stop drinking that evening.

Techniques for Approaching Someone About A Suspected Drinking Problem
It is critical to approach an intoxicated person as someone who is not thinking clearly and rationally. Alcohol is a drug that acts as a depressant to the central nervous system. The first area for alcohol to affect is one's ability to be rational.

Alcohol also lowers inhibitions so that people often say things they would normally not say and act in ways uncharacteristic to their sober self. The person in authority who gets involved or a friend who wants to help when a person's behavior becomes problematic may often be dealing with someone who may be belligerent, verbally abusive and uncooperative.

The Following Are Suggestions For Acting As Effectively As Possible:

  1. First, communicate your genuine concern for the other person.
  2. Do not take anything the intoxicated person says personally.
  3. Speak clearly and directly without shouting. Shouting will only server to agitate the intoxicated person and will only make your job more difficult.
  4. Maintain the offensive; do not let the other person put you on the defensive about your drinking.
  5. Confront behavior, not values.
  6. Set very clear limits for the other individual. Tell him/her what you need to do and what will be happening. Repeat yourself if necessary.
  7. Know the basic facts about alcohol, but avoid coming across as an expert.
  8. Decide quickly what to do with him/her: what is your goal (e.g. take him/her to a hospital or health center, have friends take him/her home, maintain him/her until the police come, etc.).
  9. Try to get the person to agree to some form of positive action.
  10. Convey the idea that you (or someone else) is available for support or information to help them deal with the situation.
  11. Do not get into arguments about why you are doing anything. Develop a clear explanation for yourself, for example: "I'm concerned about you and want to see you safe," or "You behavior is unacceptable here…we just want to get you someplace where you can sober up and return back to normal."
  12. Do not use this time to try to teach anything. Remember the individual is not thinking rationally and cannot process rational information.
  13. Do not allow the person to drive or operate other machinery.

How can the effects of alcohol be moderated?

  • You can eat food that is high in carbohydrates (for example, pizza), so the alcohol does not get into the blood as quickly.
  • You can drink slowly, sipping rather than gulping. Alcohol will get into the bloodstream in smaller quantities and the effect will be less intense.
  • You can alternate an alcoholic drink with an nonalcoholic drink.