You may know your favorite mixed drink order by heart, but is not necessarily the same thing as understanding important alcohol information and facts. This is important in order to make smart choices about alcohol. This important information can include everything from the alcohol content of different kinds of drinks to how alcohol enters and affects the body. In this post, we take the time to objectively describe alcohol facts and information that everyone should be aware of. The ultimate goal of this post is to give you, the reader, fair and insightful knowledge about how alcohol works on the brain and body. This should help you make informed, safe and smart decisions when it comes to drinking alcohol.
“Our national drug is alcohol. We tend to regard the use of any other drug with special horror.”
~ William S. Burroughs
The alcohol information covered in the post includes everything from how alcohol is made to how the substance can cause hangovers. Some of the most important alcohol facts and information covered here include:
- Why different types of alcohol are stronger, and how these different types are made.
- How alcohol enters the body and affects the brain.
- How long alcohol stays in your body (i.e. your hair, your urine, and your bloodstream).
- What a safe and healthy level of drinks are for the average person.
- Why it is important to engage in safe and smart drinking habits.
- What to know about alcohol and breathalyzers.
- Why there is a difference between cheap and expensive alcohols.
- How to know if alcohol consumption has become a problem in your life.
These are just the main points covered in this post. We also discuss the most frequently asked questions about alcohol, taking the time to provide relevant and objective information on the questions you may have about drinking alcohol. While it is not the goal of this post to discuss alcoholism or addiction, as always we encourage you to make safe and smart choices about your alcohol consumption to avoid turning to problematic drinking habits.
What You Need to Know About Alcohol
While alcohol refers to the actual ethanol content in drinks, there are many different types of drinks that contain alcohol. Beer, wine, and liquor all vary in terms of both how they are made and how much alcohol they contain. This difference in alcohol content is important to understand, since “just one drink” can mean many different things in a social setting – it could mean a single beer or few ounces of hard alcohol.
The effects of these two different types of drinks vary greatly, since some types of alcohol are stronger. Many people are confused about why different types of alcohol are stronger – this has to do with different grains of alcohols. The amount of alcohol in a drink is usually called ABV, an abbreviated form of alcohol by volume.
Beer: Beer is made by fermenting the sugars in different types of grain including malted barley and wheat. The drink is then flavored and preserved with hops. Beer usually has an ABV of 4-6%. It has less alcohol than wine or liquor because there is less sugar in the grain to ferment.
Wine: Wine begins as grape juice, which is then fermented to produce the alcohol. It works much the same way as producing beer: the sugar in the juice slowly ferments, eventually producing alcohol. Wine does not use an alcohol grain at all. It usually has an ABV of 11-14%.
Liquor: Making hard liquor involves both the fermentation of various fruits and grains, followed by the distillation of this fermented product. Different types of liquor use different grains: vodka uses potatoes or barley, whiskey uses corn and wheat, tequila uses agave, rum uses molasses, gin uses juniper berries, and other forms (like brandy, cognac and sherry) are made by further distilling wine. This distillation process is what makes the ABV content of hard liquors so high, ranging from 35-60%.
While the ABV content of each of these kinds of alcohol varies, it is important to understand how it all adds up. One ounce of beer may have less alcohol than one ounce of wine, but people tend to drink much more beer than they do wine. A standard drink, or an amount that has roughly the same alcohol content, across all three of these types of alcohol is considered to be:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 1.5 ounces of hard liquor
- 5 ounces of wine
How Alcohol Enters and Affects the Brain and Body
One of the most important things to understand about alcohol is how the substance enters the body and how it affects the brain. Whether someone is drinking wine, beer or liquor the alcohol within the drink will affect them – this is true no matter which alcohols they make. Not only that, but the effects of alcohol often hit the brain and body relatively quickly. Consider the quote below for a detailed account of how alcohol affects the brain.
“Alcohol directly affects brain chemistry by altering levels of neurotransmitters – the chemical messengers that transmit the signals throughout the body that control thought processes, behavior and emotion. What this means for you is that your thought, speech and movements are slowed down, and the more you drink the more of these effects you’ll feel. Alcohol also increased the release of dopamine in your brain’s reward center. By jacking up dopamine levels in your brain, alcohol tricks you into thinking that it’s actually making you feel great (or maybe just better, if you are drinking to get over something emotionally difficult).”
~ David DiSalvo, writing for Forbes Magazine
This is a more scientific explanation for a simple insight: alcohol affects both your brain and body. While these effects can be pleasurable in the short-term, they can become dangerous if you drink too much or too quickly. It can take up to an hour for the alcohol level in your bloodstream to peak, so it is recommended to avoid drinking more than one full drink each hour. Limiting yourself in this way can reduce the potential for risky behaviors, and increase your body’s ability to handle the alcohol safely and correctly.
Frequently Ask Questions About Alcohol
How long does alcohol stay in your system?
In general, it takes the body an hour to fully metabolize one single ounce of alcohol. How fast alcohol passes through your body’s system depends on your age, your ethnicity, your body fat content, and how quickly you consumed alcohol. Different people groups and ethnicities also handle alcohol differently.
Some additional follow up questions include:
- How long does alcohol stay in your hair?
Alcohol remains detectable in hair follicles for up to three months after it was last consumed (this is true of nearly any substance).
- How long does alcohol stay in your body for a blood test?
Even though the liver metabolizes alcohol in about an hour, the substance can remain in your blood for up to 12 hours after a last drink.
- How long does alcohol stay in your urine?
Alcohol usually remains detectable in your urine for 12-48 hours. This depends entirely on how advanced the urine test is and how much alcohol you drank.
How many drinks can I have?
There is a difference between the number of drinks that you could physically handle and the number of drinks that exceed what is considered to be healthy drinking habits by most health professionals. In reality, you should limit yourself to just a few drinks at one time, even during a night out on the town. According to most health professionals, binge drinking is anything over four drinks for women and five drinks for men. There is also a difference in how many drinks you can have per your body weight – someone who weighs 100 pounds will be at least twice as intoxicated as someone who weighs over 200 pounds for the same number of drinks.
Why are some types of alcohol stronger?
The main difference in the strength of an alcohol drink is in how the alcohol itself is produced. Most beer, for example, is not nearly as strong as hard liquor like whiskey or tequila. This is because beer generally has a short fermentation process, while liquors go through both fermentation and distillation – the process of making the alcohol even more concentrated in the drink. However, some alcoholic drinks are stronger than others because of the way they are mixed. Some cocktails consist of just one type of alcohol and soda water, while others have three or four different types of alcohol and have a much higher alcohol content for the same sized drink. With this in mind, you should always be aware of the contents of your drink before consuming any type of alcohol.
How does a breathalyzer work?
A breathalyzer is designed to keep people from driving while intoxicated. The contraption works by testing the blood alcohol level of someone who has been drinking. A breathalyzer is usually considered the most accurate way to test for inebriation because the ethanol present in a person’s breath directly reflects their blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The legal limit for a BAC is 0.08%, so it is important to ensure you are well below this limit before driving.
Can you drink one night and still be drunk in the morning?
Yes – the more you drink, the harder it is for your metabolism to handle the alcohol. If you drink five alcohol drinks in a couple of hours, it will take your body five hours to fully metabolize that alcohol. You can do the math from there: drinking heavily, over the course of several hours, can lead you to still be drunk the next morning.
Why do hangovers happen?
A hangover is the unpleasant byproduct of heavy drinking, and can occur after drinking any type of alcohol. The headache, dizziness and drowsiness associated with a hangover are all caused by the dehydrating effect of alcohol. Drinking generally causes you to urinate more than usual, and the sugars in alcohol also work to dehydrate your body. Over the course of hours, this can cause the extreme symptoms known simply as a hangover.
How do I know if alcohol becomes a problem?
Drinking alcohol is an accepted social practice, but that does not mean that drinking cannot lead to addiction or substance abuse. Alcohol statistics in the United States show us that alcohol consumption can become problematic for many people. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between moderate and problematic drinking. To help you determine if you alcohol consumption is reflective of alcohol addiction, you can take our alcoholism quiz. The quiz is not meant to provide an objective diagnosis of alcoholism, but it can help you recognize if your drinking habits are at least putting you on a path toward alcoholism, or if they are within safe and smart parameters.
Hopefully, this post has given you all of alcohol facts and information that you need to make better-informed decisions. It is important to note here that following the safe and smart practices recommended above is crucial to avoid the possibility of alcohol abuse or even full blown alcoholism. If you do think that alcohol abuse may be an issue for you, consider reaching out for professional help in getting your drinking habits assessed. After this initial assessment, professional addiction counselors can help you get started on the process of overcoming this substance abuse or addiction.
The main takeaway here is that there should be no inherent problem with drinking alcohol, as long as it is consumed safely and in moderation. Use the alcohol information and facts presented here to help you determine what smart drinking habits look like for you. If you still have more questions about the alcohol facts and information presented here, or even a comment to share, feel free to contact us today.
American Bartenders School. (2016). Liquor Dictionary. Retrieved from: http://www.barschool.com/drink-recipes/liquor-dictionary/
BBC. (2014, December). The Science of Alcohol: How Booze Affects Your Body. Retrieved from: http://www.barschool.com/drink-recipes/liquor-dictionary/
David DiSalvo. (2012, October). What Alcohol Really Does to Your Brain. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2012/10/16/what-alcohol-really-does-to-your-brain/#44e10f87664e
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2017, February). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2009). Ethnicity and Health Disparities in Alcohol Research. Retrieved from: https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh40/152-160.htm
Responsible Drinking. (2016). How Much Alcohol is in My Drink? Retrieved from: http://www.responsibledrinking.org/what-are-you-drinking/how-much-alcohol-is-in-my-drink/