Alcohol 101: Learning New Facts and Remembering What You Forgot
Think you know everything you need about alcohol? Guess again. This Alcohol 101 primer will not only teach you new things but also remind you of the facts you may have forgotten.
1. One drink is not necessarily one serving of alcohol.
One serving of alcohol is .6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol. For a 12 fl oz beer, 5% alcohol is one serving of alcohol in one serving of beer. “High Gravity” beers have an alcohol content of 8% or higher- a higher serving of alcohol in one serving of beer. In addition, we tend to over-serve ourselves. One alcohol serving of a 12% wine is 5 fl oz, more than half the size of most wine glasses. Lastly, Cocktails usually contain more than one shot (1.5 fl oz of 40% proof liquor is one serving), as well as other alcoholic ingredients such as liquors.
2. It takes more than one hour to metabolize one serving of alcohol.
This is particularly important to keep in mind if you drive yourself somewhere and end up having a drink. Since most people have a blood alcohol level of .08 by the time they have their third drink, count on at least one hour, preferably more, without alcohol before you get behind the wheel. If you have consumed more than three drinks, add at least another 30 minutes for each drink. Of course, the best solution is to either not drink or not drive at all.
3. It takes 30 minutes to feel the effects of alcohol.
It may take an hour to metabolize a drink, but it takes approximately thirty minutes before you feel alcohol’s effects. This is a good gauge for pacing yourself. Drinking more than one drink every 30 minutes means you are probably drinking too much, too fast. Slow yourself down, and if you find yourself feeling thirsty before those 30 minutes have passed, try a glass of water first.
4. Several things factor into how much alcohol affects you.
You need to consider not only what you drink but also how much you have eaten, what you have eaten, your gender, your weight, and any medications you may have taken. The less you weigh, the higher your alcohol blood content will be after one serving. After two servings of alcohol, a 150lb man will have an alcohol blood content (BAC) of approximately .058, while a man of 225 lbs will have a BAC of .039. Men have more body water, allowing their system to dilute alcohol more than women. This means men can drink the same amount of alcohol as a woman of similar weight and not get as drunk. Additionally, women process alcohol more slowly, meaning they will feel the effects of alcohol longer.
Eating a meal before drinking will dilute the alcohol, slowing the absorption of alcohol into the body. People who do not eat before drinking can have a BAC three times higher than those who do. Continuing to snack, especially on carbohydrates like bread or crackers, and drinking water while you are drinking will help your body process the alcohol and help prevent a hangover. Even if you do not take medication regularly, be very aware of what medications you have taken in a 24-hour period. Something as harmless as cold medicine can increase alcohol’s effects on you.
5. Even though alcohol may make you feel good, it is still a depressant.
While some people do become psychologically depressed when drinking alcohol, everyone becomes physiologically depressed when they drink alcohol. Certain brain and body functions become less active as alcohol affects the central nervous system. It slows breathing, relaxes muscles, and impairs thinking. Slurred speech, lack of coordination, and slowed reaction time are all caused by depressing the central nervous system. So, even if you are not feeling morose, your body is still being depressed when you consume alcohol.
6. Alcohol dehydrates you.
This may seem counter-intuitive because you are introducing liquids into your body. Alcohol is actually a diuretic, which means you are losing more liquids than you are gaining, namely through increased urination. If you are excessively consuming alcohol, you may vomit and lose even more important fluids. Even mild consumption of alcohol means more than frequent trips to the bathroom and thirst. Dehydration causes a dry mouth, headache, dizziness, insomnia, irritability, and dizziness. Yes, all the symptoms of hangovers are caused by mild dehydration. Severe dehydration can lead to brain damage, seizures, and death. To avoid mild and severe dehydration, limit your alcohol intake, drink water, eat non-salty foods, and avoid carbonated beverages.
7. Alcohol is a frequent factor in sexual assault.
This is not to suggest that if you are sexually assaulted and have been drinking it is your fault. Rape and sexual assault are never a victim’s fault. It is an unfortunate fact that ⅔ of date rape cases involve alcohol. For the assaulted, intoxication compromises their ability to fend off attacks, whether that be because of passing out, inhibited motor skills, or slurred speech. For the assaulter, intoxication loosens inhibitions and impairs thinking. Both parties cannot correctly assess the situation at hand. Remaining aware of alcohol consumption, and stopping when a limit has been reached, will allow individuals to control their situations better and reduce the risk of a sexual assault crime.
8. If you want to sober up fast, well, you can’t.
Coffee. Water. Food. Fresh air. A cold shower. None of these will actually make an intoxicated person sober, even if they make them feel better. Whether you are drunk or simply buzzed, the only thing that will sober you up is time. If you are anxious to return home or stop feeling sick, those minutes can feel like hours, but all you can do is wait it out. That is why it is so important to drink alcohol appropriately. Once your blood alcohol rises or you cross from one level of drunkenness into another one, all you can do is wait for your body to metabolize the alcohol in your system.
9. Sleeping it off is a terrible idea.
The worst thing a severely intoxicated person can do is lie down. If you vomit, you could actually choke and die. If you are with someone who is intoxicated and must lie down, make sure the person is lying on his/her side and his/her head is turned to the side, then watch the person closely. If someone has alcohol poisoning, you should get the individual to the emergency room immediately. Signs of alcohol poisoning include unconsciousness, inability to be wakened, slow or irregular breathing, vomiting uncontrollably, and cold, clammy, pale, or bluish skin. Alcohol poisoning can lead to coma or death. While waiting for medical attention, you want to keep the person alert and awake.
10. Alcoholism is defined by a dependence on alcohol, and “rules” for alcoholism are useless.
Some people subscribe to arbitrary rules as a way to monitor whether someone is an alcoholic. This is flawed. For example, some individuals think that if you never drink alone, you cannot be an alcoholic, and if you do drink alone, you are. The truth is neither indicates the presence or absence of a drinking problem. There are many different stages of alcoholism, and many alcoholics can be polysubstance abusers. Similarly, the type of alcohol you drink does not really matter. Abstaining from hard liquor or drinking hard liquor is not part of the criteria for determining if you are an alcoholic. All that matters is if the drink contains alcohol or not, regardless of whether it is wine, beer, or liquor.
If it is affecting your life, and/or if you cannot refrain from drinking without distress, then you have a problem with alcohol. If you are concerned about your drinking (or someone else’s), you should investigate further. You can either consult a professional or take one of the many online assessments to determine whether or not you are abusing alcohol.