Sobering Facts About Alcohol
There is no safe option when it comes to drinking. Learn why various alcoholic beverages are equally dangerous.
Three out of four teens have tried alcohol by the time they graduate from high school, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a worrying statistic, given the risks associated with underage drinking.
Many teens think they can play it safe when it comes to alcohol. They may stay away from wine and hard liquor but drink beer because they believe its lower alcohol content makes it less dangerous. Would they be right? Which drink—a can of beer, a glass of wine, or a shot glass of hard liquor—do you think contains the most alcohol? Which contains the least? It may surprise you to discover that all three actually have the same amount!
Numbers to Know
Ounce for ounce, wine has more than twice the alcohol of beer. Hard liquor has eight times as much. But each type of drink is usually served in different-size containers or glasses. Beer tends to come in 12-ounce cans, wine usually comes in 5-ounce wine glasses, and a shot glass has room for 1.5 ounces of liquor. Each of these is considered a standard drink and contains 1.2 tablespoons of pure alcohol. So someone who chooses beer instead of wine or liquor can become just as inebriated.
The reality is that drinking any type of alcohol can harm your body and put your life at risk. And it’s against the law if you are younger than 21. “It doesn’t matter if its beer, wine, or liquor,” says Vivian Faden of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The alcohol found in drinks is a chemical called ethanol. It’s made through the process of fermentation, which breaks down the sugars in grains, fruits, or vegetables. When a person downs beer, wine, or liquor, the ethanol in the drink is absorbed into the bloodstream and begins to affect the central nervous system.
“Alcohol, as well as other drugs of abuse, targets the brain’s reward pathway region,” says Ken Winters, a psychiatrist who studies the treatment of addiction at the University of Minnesota. This part of the brain releases certain neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, that promote pleasurable feelings. At the same time, alcohol slows down activity in other parts of the brain. “It’s not just giving you an emotional high, it’s also impacting motor coordination and alertness,” Winters says.
People may start out feeling relaxed, but as they continue to drink, they become confused and disoriented. They may have slurred speech, stagger, or pass out. “Typically, it takes four drinks for an average 180-pound male’s blood alcohol to reach the legal limit,” Faden says. Adolescents are still growing, so their bodies tend to be smaller and able to process alcohol faster. “For kids, it could take less alcohol, maybe two or three drinks, to create the same amount of impairment as it would an adult.”
One good reason for kids to avoid alcohol is that they have a tendency to drink more than they can handle. Teens have limited access to alcohol. When it does become available, teens often drink to excess. The drinks they consume aren’t always standard-size either. “If you went to a party and were given one of those big red plastic cups filled with beer, you may get more than what is in a can of beer,” Faden says.
Drinking could lead you to do something risky or out of character. “Whether you are talking about car crashes or violence or sexual assault, all of those things become much more likely when you add alcohol into the mix,” says Stephen Wallace, chairman and CEO of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). Alcohol can affect adolescents’ developing brains, causing learning and memory problems. Teens who use alcohol also have an increased chance of becoming addicted.
Choosing not to drink seems like a no-brainer; yet many teens feel pressured to drink. Kids should realize that not all of their peers choose to abuse alcohol. “There’s a large group of teens out there who are having a great time and social life without resorting to choices that their parents don’t want them to make and many of them don’t want to make,” Wallace says.