The drinkable form of alcohol is ethanol, or ethyl alcohol. It is a powerful, addictive, central nervous system depressant produced by the action of yeast cells on carbohydrates in fruits and grains.

A liquid that is taken orally, alcohol is often consumed in copious quantities. Surveys of adolescent and young adult drinkers indicate that they are particularly likely to drink heavily with the intention of getting drunk - often every time they drink.

There are three basic types of alcoholic drinks:

  • Beer is made from fermented grains and has an alcohol content of three to six percent.

  • Wine is made from fermented fruits and has an alcohol content of 11 to 14 percent. Some wine drinks, such as wine coolers, have fruit juice and sugar added, lowering alcohol content to between four and seven percent. Fortified wines, such as port, have alcohol added, bringing alcohol content to between 18 and 20 percent.

  • Spirits are made by distilling a fermented product to yield a drink that usually contains 40 to 50 percent alcohol. The alcohol content in a spirit is sometimes indicated by degrees of proof.

A 12-ounce glass of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, and a 1.5-ounce shot of a spirit all contain the same amount of alcohol and, therefore, have an equal effect on the drinker. All three forms of alcohol have the same potential for intoxication and addiction. (Quoted from the American Council for Education)

Health Hazards When a person consumes alcohol, the drug acts on nerve cells deep in the brain. Alcohol initially serves as a stimulant, and then induces feelings of relaxation and reduced anxiety.

Consumption of two or three drinks in an hour can impair judgment, lower inhibitions, and induce mild euphoria. Five drinks consumed in two hours may raise the blood alcohol level to 0.10 percent, high enough to be considered legally intoxicated in every state.

Once a drinker stops drinking, his or her blood alcohol level decreases by about 0.01 percent per hour.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol use and intoxication:

  • Smell of alcohol on breath
  • Irritability
  • Euphoria
  • Loss of physical coordination
  • Inappropriate or violent behaviour
  • Loss of balance
  • Unsteady gait
  • Slurred and/or incoherent speech
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slowed thinking
  • Depression
  • Impaired short-term memory
  • Blackouts

Signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, experienced by alcoholics and problem drinkers:

  • Tremors
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Paranoia and delusions
  • Hallucinations (usually visual)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased body temperature
  • Elevated blood pressure and heart rate
  • Convulsions
  • Seizures

In addition to risk of injury or death as a result of accident or violence, alcohol abuse poses a broad range of physiological and psychological dangers.

Neurological dangers include impaired vision and impaired motor coordination, memory defects, hallucinations, blackouts, and seizures. Long-term consumption can result in permanent damage to the brain.

Cardiological problems include elevated blood pressure and heart rate, risk of stroke and heart failure.

Respiratory dangers include respiratory depression and failure, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and lung abscesses. Additionally, alcohol abuse increases the risk of mouth and throat cancer.

Liver disease caused by chronic alcohol abuse, including alcoholic fatty liver, hepatitis, and cirrhosis, kills 25,000 Americans each year.

Other physiological dangers include damage to the gastrointestinal system (including duodenal ulcers, reflux, and diarrhoea), the pancreas, and the kidneys. In addition, alcohol consumption may cause malnutrition, disrupt the absorption of nutrients in food, and suppress the immune system, thus increasing the potential for illness.

Psychological angers include impaired judgment and verbal ability, apathy, introversion, antisocial behaviour, inability to concentrate, and deterioration of relationships with family, friends, and co-workers. (Quoted from the American Council for Education).