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The most commonly used alcohol is ethanol, C2H5OH. It has been produced and consumed by humans since prehistoric times for a variety of hygienic, dietary, medicinal, religious, and recreational reasons.

Alcohol is created when grains, fruits, or vegetables are fermented. Fermentation is a process that uses yeast or bacteria to change the sugars in the food into alcohol.

Reasons that teens use alcohol and other drugs are: curiosity, to feel good, reduce stress, and relax, to fit in, to feel older. From a very young age, kids see advertising messages showing beautiful people enjoying life — and alcohol. And because many parents and other adults use alcohol socially — having beer or wine with dinner, for example — alcohol seems harmless to many teens.

EFFECTS

In very small amounts, alcohol can help a person feel more relaxed or less anxious. More alcohol causes greater changes in the brain, resulting in intoxication. People who have overused alcohol may stagger, lose their coordination, and slur their speech. They will probably be confused and disoriented. Depending on the person, intoxication can make someone very friendly and talkative or very aggressive and angry.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant—leading to slowed reactions, slurred speech, and ultimately, to unconsciousness. Alcohol progressively affects different brain areas; first affecting the part of the brain that controls inhibitions. When people lose their inhibitions, they may talk more, get rowdy, and do foolish things. After several drinks, they may feel “high,” but really, their nervous system is slowing down.

The observed effects depend directly on the blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is related to the amount of alcohol consumed. The BAC can rise significantly within 20 minutes after having a drink. The BAC increases when the body absorbs alcohol faster than it can eliminate it. The body can only eliminate about one dose of alcohol per hour. The body responds to alcohol in stages, which correspond to an increase in BAC:

  • Euphoria (BAC = 0.03 to 0.12 percent)
    • They become more self-confident or daring.
    • Their attention span shortens.
    • They may look flushed.
    • Their judgment is not as good -- they may say the first thought that comes to mind.
    • They have trouble with fine movements, such as writing or signing their name.
  • Excitement (BAC = 0.09 to 0.25 percent)
    • They become sleepy.
    • They have trouble understanding or remembering things (even recent events).
    • They do not react to situations as quickly (if they spill a drink they may just stare at it).
    • Their body movements are uncoordinated.
    • They begin to lose their balance easily.
    • Their vision becomes blurry.
    • They may have trouble sensing things (hearing, tasting, feeling, etc.).
  • Confusion (BAC = 0.18 to 0.30 percent)
    • They are confused -- might not know where they are or what they are doing.
    • They are dizzy and may stagger.
    • They may be highly emotional -- aggressive, withdrawn or overly affectionate.
    • They cannot see clearly.
    • They are sleepy.
    • They have slurred speech.
    • They have uncoordinated movements (trouble catching an object thrown to them).
    • They may not feel pain as readily as a sober person.
  • Stupor (BAC = 0.25 to 0.4 percent)
    • They can barely move at all.
    • They cannot respond to stimuli.
    • They cannot stand or walk.
    • They may vomit.
    • They may lapse in and out of consciousness.  
  • Coma (BAC = 0.35 to 0.50 percent)
    • They are unconscious.
    • Their reflexes are depressed (i.e. their pupils do not respond appropriately to changes in light).
    • They feel cool (lower-than-normal body temperature).
    • Their breathing is slower and shallower.
    • Their heart rate may slow.
    • They may die.
  • Death(BAC more than 0.50 percent) - The person usually stops breathing and dies.
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