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Alcohol use

Contents of this page:

Alternative Names   

Beer consumption; Wine consumption; Hard liquor consumption

Definition    Return to top

Alcohol use involves drinking alcohol, which is produced by fermenting the starch or sugar in fruits and grains.

See also:

Information    Return to top

People have been drinking alcoholic beverages since prehistoric times. The discovery of the distillation process during the 12th century made it possible to make drinks with higher alcohol content (hard liquor) than can be achieved by fermentation alone.

Alcoholic drinks have different amounts of alcohol in them -- beer is about 5% alcohol, wine is usually 12 - 15% alcohol, and hard liquor is about 45% alcohol.

Alcohol and caffeine are the two most widely used drug substances in the world. Alcohol use is NOT ONLY an adult problem. Most American high school seniors have consumed an alcoholic drink within the past month, despite the fact that the legal drinking age is 21 years old in the U.S.

About 20% of teens are "problem drinkers." This means that they:

Studies have shown that up to 6% of teens in the United States can be considered dependent or abusing alcohol. This means they have withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop or reduce their drinking, and they drink compulsively despite negative consequences.

A person's alcohol use is primarily influenced by attitudes developed during the childhood and teen years. It is impacted by:

There is likely a genetic (hereditary) tendency to alcohol use-related disorders.


Alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream quickly. The absorption rate depends on the amount and type of food in your stomach. For example, high- carbohydrate and high- fat foods lessen the absorption rates. A carbonated alcoholic drink, like champagne, will be absorbed faster than a non-carbonated drink.

The effects of alcohol may appear within 10 minutes and peak at approximately 40 - 60 minutes. Alcohol stays in the bloodstream until it is broken down by the liver. If a person consumes alcohol at a faster rate than the liver can break it down, the blood alcohol concentration level rises.

Each state has its own legal definition for alcohol intoxication, which is defined by blood alcohol concentration. The legal limit usually falls between 0.08 and 0.10 in most states. Different levels lead to different effects:

Alcohol depresses your breathing rate, heart rate, and the control mechanisms in your brain. The effects include:

If a pregnant woman drinks, alcohol can adversely affect the developing fetus. Alcohol can cause birth defects or fetal alcohol syndrome (a disorder marked by mental retardation and behavior problems).


Alcohol increases the risks of:


People who drink alcohol (or who live with individuals who consume alcohol) may want to seek help for themselves or their loved ones if the following occur with drinking:

It is also important to remember that some people are at higher risk for alcoholism due to:


Other resources include:

References    Return to top

Foster SE, Vaughan RD, Foster WH, Califano Jr. JA. Alcohol consumption and expenditures for underage drinking and adult excessive drinking. JAMA. 2003;289:989-995.

Update Date: 1/20/2009

Updated by: Paul Ballas, D.O., Department of Psychiatry, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 1997-2009, A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.