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Alcohol 101

Alcohol 101

Many teens first experience using mind-altering substances involves alcohol. So what do you really know about it?

It’s a can of beer, or a shot of vodka, or maybe a sip of wine. No matter the form it takes, alcohol and alcohol advertising surrounds us in our society. In fact, it can be difficult to imagine a world without alcohol because it’s so ingrained in how we live our lives. Having a beer with friends after work or opening a bottle of wine at a party is what’s expected of adults.

This gives teens a pretty confusing perspective on alcohol. After all, it’s against the law to drink until you’re 21. But every other commercial you see on TV is about how alcohol always makes it a good time and friends have fun by drinking together. Even though we’re told about the dangers of drunk driving, we’re also told that alcohol needs to be involved in order to have fun and be social with friends. Teens are getting mixed messages, right?

So let’s just take a step back and look at what alcohol really is.

Bottles and glasses of assorted alcoholic beverages.
There’s a lot of different alcohols out there, but they all come from the same basic chemical reactions.

Alcohol is an intoxicating chemical that is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches. Fermentation happens when yeast converts sugars or starches into alcohol – think of it like how trees take in carbon dioxide from the air and turn it into oxygen. Alcohol is found in beer, wine, and liquor. The same process of fermentation happens in all of these; the only difference is the types of sugars and starches used to create the alcohol.

Alcohol is categorized as a depressant. This doesn’t mean that it makes you sad, but rather it depresses the body’s functions. When alcohol is consumed, it is quickly absorbed by the lining of the stomach and enters the bloodstream. From the bloodstream, it starts to affect your body’s organs, reaching your brain only 5 minutes after the first drink. All of the effects that you feel from alcohol comes from how it impacts the brain. Dopamine – a natural chemical in your body that produces euphoria – is released in greater quantities, making you feel happier and more carefree. The more alcohol ingested, the more the brain is affected. 

After a few drinks, the different lobes of the brain are affected by the alcohol, creating side effects that impact your vision, coordination, and your speech. At this point the brain can no longer communicate with the rest of the body at its usual speed, resulting in the user experiencing a variety of effects. These effects include:

  •  Slurred speech
  •  Loss of coordination
  •  Blurred vision
  •  Emotional outbursts
  •  Sense of confusion
  •  Redness of the face
  •  Bloodshot eyes
  •  Loss of self-control


But we already know what drunk people look like, right? What really needs to be remembered is how all of this affects the teenage brain. Since the teenage brain is still developing well into the 20s, anything that can impact its development is a danger, and alcohol is wayyyy up there in terms of developmental risks. Studies have shown that alcohol significantly impairs learning and memory in teens throughout their lives. Drinking isn’t just impacting your current self, but your future self as well.

Teens are surrounded by a culture that is saturated with alcohol, be that from advertising, friends or family members that drink, or just a trip to the local gas station. Most modern teenagers are going to have situations where alcohol is offered to them – that’s just how the world works. What’s important is how you as an individual use your knowledge to react to that situation.

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