Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and contains ethyl alcohol or ethanol. Ethanol is the intoxicating ingredient in beer, wine and liquor, and is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars and starches. Alcohol is usually a liquid that is drunk. Its color and packaging vary widely, and types include beer, wine and liquor.

    A single drink is roughly defined as 12 oz of beer (~5% alcohol), 5 oz of wine (~12% alcohol) or 1.5 oz of liquor (~40% alcohol).

    Some slang terms you might hear for alcohol are booze, brew, juice or sauce. Many products that do not normally contain alcohol, like seltzer or fruit juice, are sold in “spiked” versions and may be referred to by a brand name (White Claw, TRULY).

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    What are the risks of underage drinking?

    A young person’s brain is not fully developed until they reach their mid- to late 20s, and any drinking while the brain is still developing can be problematic. Regardless of age, alcohol lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment and coordination. It can also increase the incidence of aggressive or violent acts.

    Consuming large quantities in a short period of time — or binge drinking, which is defined as having 4-5 drinks on one occasion and is common among young people — can cause alcohol poisoning and even death.

    More than 16 million Americans misuse or are addicted to alcohol, which is a substance that is legal, widely available and normalized in our society. Prolonged, heavy use of alcohol can lead to addiction (known as alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism), liver and heart disease, and other health consequences such as a weakened immune system and increased risk of developing certain cancers.

    Learn more about the dangers of underage and binge drinking:

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    What Parents Need to Know About College Binge Drinking

    Parents who communicate expectations against drinking means a lower chance of their child drinking excessively in college. Get tips on how to talk.
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    Addressing underage drinking

    Keep an eye out for these signs of alcohol use or intoxication:

    • Empty bottles, shot glasses, bottle openers
    • Water or soda bottles (or other containers) used to conceal liquor
    • Smell of alcohol on the breath
    • Slurred speech
    • Lack of coordination
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Hangovers

    Read more about what to do if you suspect or confirm that your child is struggling with alcohol use.

    How to Address Alcohol and Underage Drinking

    Alcohol is the most used substance among teens and adults. So what can you say to your child who is drinking underage?
    Learn more

    Prepare to Take Action if You Suspect Teen or Young Adult Drug Use

    Is your child using drugs? Use these tips to prepare for the conversation ahead, and lay the foundation for more positive outcomes.
    Learn more

    Last Updated

    October 2020

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