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. It is usually a liquid that is drunk, and 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% abv), 5 oz of wine (~12% abv) or 1.5 oz of liquor (~40% abv).

Some slang terms you might hear are booze, brew, juice or sauce. Many traditionally non-alcoholic products, like seltzer or fruit juice, are sold in “spiked” versions and may be referred to by a brand name (White Claw, TRULY).

A guide for families

We break down the risks of underage drinking, why it appeals to young people and what you can do to protect your child from its harms.

Prevent 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, drinking 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 drinking 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.

Address underage drinking

Any underage drinking is a concern. Keep an eye out for these signs of drinking, and read more on how to effectively address any concerns with your child.