Alcohol 101: Learning New Facts & Remembering What You Forgot
Think you know everything you need to about alcohol? Guess again. Far too often we have misconceptions about alcohol or dismiss the significance of those facts. This Alcohol 101 primer can not only teach you new things but also remind you of those facts you may have forgotten.
- One drink is not necessarily one serving of alcohol. What constitutes a serving of alcohol varies based on the type of beverage, and some beverages contain more than one serving. One serving of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or one shot of liquor. We not only tend to over serve ourselves, but we also forget to factor in all of the ingredients of our drinks. For example, most mixed drinks have two shots of liquor, which means one margarita or designer martini can be two to four servings of alcohol depending on what is in it.
- It takes approximately one hour to metabolize one serving of alcohol. This is particularly important to keep in mind if you drove 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 not to drink at all, but that is often not realistic when you are at a party or socializing with friends.
- 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.
- 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, your weight, and any medications you may have taken. Obviously, the less you weigh, the less alcohol you can consume. If you are a 130-pound female out with a 180-pound male do not try to match him drink for drink. If you do, it is very likely you will end up drunk. Not just because of size either. Women process alcohol more quickly than man due to their higher fat to muscle ratio. It is also a bad idea to consume alcohol on an empty stomach. Do not skip meals or be afraid to have a snack if you are drinking. Of course, food will not prevent you from getting drunk if you consume large amounts of alcohol, but it does slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. Not to mention that alcohol on an empty stomach can lead to indigestion, nausea, or stomach upset. 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.
- Even though alcohol may make you feel good, it is still a depressant. While some people do become depressed when drinking, that is not what we are referring to when we say alcohol is a depressant. A depressant reduces certain brain and body functions. 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 central nervous system is still being depressed when you consume alcohol.
- Alcohol dehydrates you. This may seem counterintuitive because you are introducing liquids into your body, but alcohol is actually a diuretic, which means you are losing more liquids than you are gaining, namely through increased urination. Also, if you are excessively consuming alcohol, you may vomit and lose even more important fluids. Dehydration means more than just dry mouth and frequent trips to the bathroom. Severe dehydration can lead to brain damage, seizures, and death. In addition to limiting your alcohol intake, drinking water, eating non-salty foods, and avoiding carbonated beverages and shots will help stave off dehydration.
- 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. Also, if you commit a sexual assault while under the influence, you are still culpable and intoxication is never an excuse. That said, 2/3 of date rape cases involve alcohol. Alcohol can compromise your ability to fend off an attack, make decisions, and accurately assess a situation. It can also increase feelings of aggression and loosen inhibitions. The less you drink, the more in control you are of yourself and of any situation you may encounter. Also, it is important to keep an eye on your drink at all times, whether it contains alcohol or not. Unfortunately, rohypnol and other “date rape drugs” are still often used by predators.
- 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. 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 feel sick, those minutes can feel like hours, but you just need to 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.
- 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.
- Alcoholism is defined by a dependence on alcohol, and “rules” are useless. Some people subscribe to arbitrary rules as a way to monitor their drinking, and this is flawed. For example, some individuals think that if you never drink alone, you cannot be an alcoholic. Conversely, others assume if you drink alone, you are. The truth is, neither of those indicates the presence or absence of a drinking problem. 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 your drinking has a pattern, if it is affecting your life, and/or if you cannot refrain from drinking without distress, those are signs 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 quizzes to determine whether or not you are abusing alcohol.