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Straight talk about alcohol

A sad girl holding a beer bottle.

Booze. Sauce. Brewskis. Hard stuff. Juice. Call it what you want, but alcohol in any form — from beer to a fruity drink — can hit you really hard. Sure, alcohol may make you feel good for a little while. But it can cause so many problems. In fact, teens who drink are more likely to become victims of a crime, including a sexual attack. They are more likely to be in a drinking-related car crash. And they are more likely to have problems with alcohol later in life. Not to mention that drinking can make you act goofy, throw up, or pass out. It also can make you gain weight, become addicted, have problems in school, and otherwise mess up your life.

Of course, it can be tough to say “no.” Remember that some of your friends may want to say “no” too. You can work together to stay strong. If you want help figuring out how to turn down a drink, check out some of our clever comebacks.

What do teens think about alcohol? arrow top

With all the images on TV and talk about drinking, it’s easy to think that pretty much everyone drinks. The truth is that so many teens have the smarts and the courage to say “no.” Check out what some girls are saying about alcohol.

Girl with dark hair and bangs.“Relatives of mine drink, and I dislike it a lot more when they drink near me. I would never put a sip to my lips for as long as I live.”



African American girl.“Some of my friends drink, and I tell them not to do it. I don’t want them to get hurt. I talk to my friends and help them out because I care.”



Girl with blonde hair.“My friend has friends who smoke, drink, and do drugs, and she tries to stay away from them now. She is always with the people like me who care and won’t let her do those things, the kind of friend you should be to friends who have that problem.”


Girl with two braids.“I know some people may be curious about alcohol and tempted to try it. Tell someone you can trust and work on this situation, and that way you’ll find it easy to deal with. Stay above the influence!”


Be smart about alcohol arrow top

You may have heard that drinking alcohol at a party helps you to loosen up, talk to people, and make new friends. But the truth is that lots of teenagers know that alcohol — even a little — can make you have less control over what happens to you and your body. You can end up in uncomfortable or even dangerous situations. The safest choice is not to use alcohol at all. And remember other ways to stay safe around alcohol:

  • If you're at a party with alcohol, drink something else instead, like soda or water.
  • Never put your cup down and go back to finish it. Someone can spike (put alcohol in) your drink or even put a drug in it!
  • Always take extra money and your cell phone anywhere that people you’re with may wind up drinking. Never get into a car with someone who has been drinking. Call a taxi or ask your parents to pick you up.

Alcohol is a drug. How can it hurt your body? arrow top

Alcohol can cause short-term and long-term damage to your body. Look at the picture to find out how alcohol affects your health.

How alcohol affects the body.
Read a text version of this information

How much alcohol would it take to affect a person? arrow top

How fast alcohol affects you is influenced by many things, including your weight, how much you've eaten, and how fast you drink. Changes in your hormones that happen throughout the month also affect how much alcohol stays in your blood. And females’ bodies process alcohol differently from males’, so alcohol usually hits girls and women faster.

Remember, alcohol may be affecting you even if you aren’t slurring words or stumbling around. And once you’re drunk, the only thing that will sober you up is time. Coffee, cold showers, exercise, or other “cures” will not speed up how fast your body gets rid of the alcohol.

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Can of beer, glass of wine, and a scotch.

A 12-ounce can of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, and a 1.5-ounce shot of hard liquor all have the same amount of alcohol and the same effect on you. Mixed drinks can have even more alcohol. And don’t be fooled by a drink’s taste. A sweet or fruity drink can have just as much alcohol as a bitter one. Also, larger serving sizes are common and count as more than one drink.

bottom green border

What exactly do "impaired" and "intoxicated" mean? arrow top

  • Impairment is when the amount of alcohol you have had affects your judgment, coordination, and reaction time. It can start with your first drink. A person may not look or feel impaired even though she is. And because it takes time for alcohol to leave the stomach and enter the bloodstream, a person may become even more impaired following their last drink.
  • Intoxication is a term that is often used when discussing laws around drinking, including rules for driving and how you can act in public. These laws usually are set by your state. You may be found to be intoxicated based on your behavior or on your blood alcohol content (BAC). BAC is found through a blood, urine, or breath test and is measured in the number of grams of alcohol in 100 millimeters of blood. Different states may have different definitions and different consequences for being “impaired” or “intoxicated.”

But legal definitions aside, it’s important to remember that your mind and body can work less well — can be impaired — starting with your first drink. And don’t forget that if you’re under 21 and you drive with any alcohol in your body, you can get in serious trouble.

What is binge drinking? arrow top

Binge drinking means having a lot of alcohol on one occasion, like at a party. For females, having 4 or more drinks in a row is considered binge drinking.

Too much alcohol can cause serious physical problems, like:

  • Throwing up
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sleepiness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma or even death

It also can cause you to make bad decisions that could lead to:

  • Being the victim of sexual assault
  • Car accidents
  • Getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • Getting pregnant

And over time, if you drink too much you could develop:

  • Painful or irregular periods
  • Damage to the brain, liver, kidneys, and other parts of your body
  • Problems with schoolwork and relationships

What is the law? arrow top

Learn some key points to stay out of trouble:

  • It's not legal to drink before you're 21. You may think this isn't fair, but the bottom line is that if you drink, you break the law.
  • If you get caught drinking and you’re under 21, the consequences could include getting arrested and being required to enter an alcohol treatment program. Each state has its own laws. In Pennsylvania, for example, your first underage drinking offense could mean a $300 fine, losing your license for 90 days, or going to jail.
  • You can get into even more trouble if you’re caught drinking and driving.
  • If you're at a party with alcohol and you're not 21 — even if you're not drinking — you could get arrested.
  • Using a fake ID to buy alcohol can get you in serious trouble. Each state sets its own rules, but you could wind up in jail or paying big fines. You also could have a conviction on your permanent record, which can hurt your chances when you look for a job or apply to college.

What about my parents? They drink and it doesn’t seem to hurt them. arrow top

Because their bodies are mature, adults process alcohol differently and it affects them differently than it does teens. Teens are still growing in many ways, so even a small amount of alcohol can affect their physical and mental development. Besides, your parents are allowed by law to drink. When they drink, they should be doing it responsibly and in reasonable amounts — which means they never drive after drinking, and they have 1 to 2 drinks a day or less. So it's okay if your parents have a glass of wine at dinner or a beer during the football game. But if they misuse alcohol for any period of time, they will also cause serious damage to their health.
 

What are the signs you’re hooked on alcohol? arrow top

If you’re under 21, you’re not supposed to be drinking at all. But if you are drinking, it’s important to know whether you’re developing a serious problem. If you can relate to any of the items listed below, think about how alcohol is affecting your life and talk to an adult you trust for help.

  • Alcohol has become more important than family activities and relationships or friendships.
  • Your schoolwork is suffering.
  • You use alcohol to escape from feeling unhappy.
  • You drink when you're mad at your parents, family, or friends.
  • You can't control your drinking once you start. Even if you decide you'll only have 1 or 2 drinks, you end up having a lot.
  • You need to drink more alcohol than before to get the same effect.
  • You have blackouts or events you don't fully remember after drinking.

 

Content last reviewed May 18, 2010
Page last updated October 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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