Utah Department of Public Safety

Investigations - Alcohol Facts & Information

About Alcohol

Alcohol, a legal depressant, is a liquid obtained by fermentation of carbohydrates by yeast or by distillation. There are many different varieties of alcohol, but Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) is the type of alcohol that is used to make alcoholic beverages.

Underage Drinking:

As underage drinking remains a concern for parents, teachers and others, there is yet another reason to raise a red flag: the makers of alcoholic beverages are marketing new beverages that model mixed drinks or flavored beers, appealing to those of legal drinking age, with whom they have gained popularity. However there is a new temptation for underage drinkers as well. "Alcopops," sweet tasting alcoholic beverages, is a term used by some young adults.

According to a poll conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI, March, 2001):alcopops

  • By a three to one margin, teens report more familiarity than adults with "alcopops," and 17-18 year olds are more than twice as likely as adults to have tried them.
  • Forty-one percent of teens have tried an "alcopop."
  • More than 1/2 of all teens point to the attributes of the products---their sweet taste, the disguised taste of alcohol, and their easy-to-drink character as major reasons teenagers choose "alcopops" over beer, wine, or cocktails.

teen purchaseThe younger the age of drinking onset, the greater the chance that an individual at some point in life will develop a clinically defined alcohol disorder. Young people who began drinking before age 15 were four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence (alcohol addiction, commonly known as alcoholism) than those who began drinking at age 21. The risk that a person would develop alcohol abuse (a maladaptive drinking pattern that repeatedly causes life problems) was more than doubled for persons who began drinking before age 15 compared with those who began drinking at age 21.
Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

About 9.7 million persons aged 12 to 20 reported drinking alcohol in the month prior to a nationwide survey in 2000. Of these, 6.6 million were binge drinkers and 2.1 million were heavy drinkers.
Source: 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Use, SAMHSA

Moderate Use of Alcohol:

Moderate use is defined as up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women and older people is not harmful for most adults (over 21 years of age).

A "drink" is defined as a 12 oz. beer or wine cooler, a 5 oz. glass of wine, or 1.5 oz. of 80 proofdistilled spirits (straight or in a mixed drink).

alcoholic drinks

Those who shouldn't drink at all:

  • Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant
  • If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, you should not drink alcohol. Drinking alcohol while you are pregnant can cause a range of birth defects, and children exposed to alcohol before birth can have lifelong learning and behavioral problems. The most serious problem that can be caused by drinking during pregnancy is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Children born with FAS have severe physical, mental, and behavioral problems. Because scientists do not know exactly how much alcohol it takes to cause alcohol-related birth defects, it is best not to drink any alcohol during this time.
  • People who plan to drive or engage in other activities that require alertness and skill such as using high-speed machinery
  • People taking certain over-the-counter or prescription medications
  • Drinking alcohol while taking certain medications can cause problems. In fact, there are more than 150 medications that should not be mixed with alcohol. For example, if you are taking antihistamines for a cold or allergy and drink alcohol, the alcohol will increase the drowsiness that the medicine alone can cause, making driving or operating machinery even more dangerous. And if you are taking large doses of the painkiller acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and drinking alcohol, you are risking serious liver damage. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before drinking any amount of alcohol if you are taking any over-the-counter or prescription medicines.
  • People with medical conditions that can be made worse by drinking
  • Recovering alcoholics
  • People younger than age 21

What's the difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism?

Abuse: The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines alcohol abuse as "a maladaptive drinking pattern that repeatedly causes life problems." Alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that results in one or more of the following situations within a 12-month period:

    man drinking
  • Failure to fulfill major work, school, or home responsibilities;
  • Drinking in situations that are physically dangerous, such as while driving a car or operating machinery;
  • Having recurring alcohol-related legal problems, such as being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or for physically hurting someone while drunk; and
  • Continued drinking despite having ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by the drinking.

Drunk Driving:

When alcohol is consumed driving skills are impaired and the more alcohol consumed, the more impaired driving skills will be. Most states set the BAC limit for adults who drive after drinking at 0.08 or 0.10 percent, but impairment of driving skills begins at much lower levels.
(BAC is described below)dui crash

One in ten Americans aged 12 and older in 2000 (22.3 million persons) drove under the influence of alcohol at least once in the 12 months prior to an interview for a nationwide survey.
Source: 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Use, SAMHSA

Driving under the influence of alcohol is one of the most serious dangers of alcohol use. An estimated 513,000 people are injured in alcohol-related crashes each year, an average of 59 people per hour or approximately one person every minute.
Source: NHTSA, 2002 (statistics based on 2001 info.)

Blood Alcohol Content:

A persons BAC (blood alcohol content) helps determine their intoxication level. Your blood alcohol content is the percentage of alcohol in your bloodstream while you drink. The BAC is determined by many factors, including weight, gender, height, and tolerance. It is also dependent on the amount of food eaten---the less food in your body, the quicker the alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream, and the more intoxicated you are. As stated above, most states set the legal driving limit at 0.08 or 0.10 percent.

Binge Drinking:

Binge drinking has been defined as at least five drinks in a row for men and four drinks in a row for women. Binge drinking is prevalent on college campuses, in clubs or bars, and among middle or high-school aged students.

Binge drinking, often beginning around age 13, tends to increase during adolescence, peak in young adulthood (ages 18 to 22), then gradually decrease.
Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Youth Drinking: Risk Factors and Consequences, Alcohol Alert No. 37, Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1995.

Binge DrinkingA study found that 1,400 college students are killed each year in alcohol-related incidents. In addition, college drinking is linked to 500,000 injuries and 70,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape. Furthermore, 400,000 students aged 18 to 24 reported having unprotected sex as a result of drinking.

The study also found that 31 percent of college students met criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse and 6 percent for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence in the past 12 months, according to questionnaire-based self-reports about their drinking.
Source: "A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges,"
Task Force of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), April 2002

Alcoholism:

Also known as “alcohol dependence,” or "alcohol addiction" is a disease that includes four symptoms:alcoholism

  • Craving: A strong need, or compulsion, to drink.
  • Loss of control: The inability to limit one’s drinking on any given occasion.
  • Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, occur when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.
  • Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to “get high.” Source: NIAAA

Signs of A Drinking Problem:

  • Do you drink alone when you feel angry or sad?
  • Does your drinking ever make you late for work?
  • Does your drinking worry your family?
  • Do you ever drink after telling yourself you won't?
  • Do you ever forget what you did while you were drinking?
  • Do you get headaches or have a hang-over after you have been drinking?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above, you (or a friend or relative) may have a drinking problem.

For further information, please visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, www.niaaa.nih.gov

[Last Update - Friday, 08-Mar-2013 16:25:37 MST]