Alcohol: liquors (vodka, rum, whiskey, tequila), beer, wine, mixed drinks, malt liquors.
Alcohol is a drug consumed as a beverage. It is formed by the breakdown of sugar in certain foods such as barley, apples, and grapes. One standard drink contains approximately 14 grams of pure alcohol. Different types of alcoholic beverages contain varying concentrations of alcohol. For example, most beer is about 5% pure alcohol, while most liquor is close to 40%. One standard drink in the United States is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled liquor.
Drinking alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways.
This can lead to changes in mood, behavior, thinking, memory, and coordination. The use of alcohol reduces the functionality of behavioral inhibitory centers in the cerebral cortex, which makes a person feel less inhibited. Alcohol also acts as a sedative on the central nervous system. Drinking alcohol in excess can lead to extreme drowsiness, respiratory depression (slow or shallow breathing), coma, or even death. In addition, drinking alcohol regularly raises one’s risk of developing liver disease and certain cancers in the future.
The health risks of drinking alcohol increase greatly when the substance is consumed frequently and in large quantities. This is called binge drinking. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), defines binge drinking as 5 or more alcoholic drinks for males or 4 or more alcoholic drinks for females on the same occasion. This means at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other on at least 1 day in the past month.
SAMHSA defines “heavy alcohol use” as binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month. Heavy drinking and/or binge drinking can also lead to blackouts, wherein a person remains conscious but will not remember what happened while drinking. When a person blacks out, he or she is likely to behave in ways they normally would not.
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
Those who overuse alcohol can develop Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). This condition is characterized by the inability to stop or regulate alcohol use despite negative social, occupational, or health consequences. AUD can range from mild to severe and has been linked to increased risk for motor vehicle accidents, poor academic performance, contracting sexually transmitted infections, death by suicide, criminal activity, and intimate partner violence.
The lifetime prevalence of AUD for adults in the United States is approximately 29%. Individuals struggling with this condition may be physically dependent on the substance and need medical detox to safely begin recovery. AUD is a treatable condition. Effective and evidence-based interventions available at Sanford, and the completion of treatment reduces the risk of relapse. Treatment typically consists of a combination of group and individual counseling and medication for those who need it.