April 18, 2023

Alcohol Awareness Month: Know the facts about alcohol use and abuse

The Michigan Poison & Drug Information Center at the Wayne State University School of Medicine is calling for increased awareness of the dangers of drinking this month, which is national Alcohol Awareness Month.

The 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that youth between the ages of 12 and 17 use alcohol more than cannabis or tobacco. Although alcohol use among youth is lower than adult consumption rates, approximately 3.2 million youth surveyed admitted to binge drinking at least once in the last month of the reporting period.

Those who overconsume alcohol can experience negative health effects and consequences. Injuries from falls and vehicle accidents are common results of alcohol use and abuse. Individuals may underestimate the time it takes for alcohol’s effects to occur. This can lead to greater consumption and prolonged adverse symptoms.

In addition to the health effects related to consuming alcohol, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each day in the United States 32 people die related to alcohol-impaired vehicle drivers.

Alcohol use and abuse can cause central nervous system depression, respiratory depression and cardiovascular symptoms. Signs and symptoms can include low heart rate, lower rate of breathing, confusion, memory loss, nausea and vomiting, clammy or cold skin, mood swings and slow reflexes. These symptoms may progress and become life threatening.

The intensity of these effects is directly related to the amount of alcohol consumed. Alcohol content is measured by percentages. For instance:

  • A 12-ounce beer may contain 5% alcohol
  • A 5-ounce glass of wine may contain 12% alcohol.
  • A 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof liquor contains 40% alcohol

Mixing alcohol with other beverages does not decrease the amount of alcohol consumed. It may decrease the discomfort associated with consuming alcoholic beverages with higher alcohol content and the time taken to consume the beverage. This can be deceiving and lead to lapses in judgment resulting in greater alcohol consumption.

People who should not consume alcohol include:

  • Any person younger than 21 years of age
  • Pregnant women
  • Anyone who plans to operate a vehicle
  • Anyone in recovery from alcohol use disorder
  • Anyone who has been told to abstain from alcohol for medical reasons, including the use of certain medications
  • Anyone taking prescription or over-the-counter medications should check with their health care provider before consuming alcoholic beverages

Small children who consume alcoholic beverages are at a much greater risk for poisoning. A 2-year-old child who unintentionally consumes alcohol can experience significant CNS depression and low blood sugar. Children may also experience respiratory depression, seizures, coma and death following alcohol consumption.

Underage consumption of alcohol results in more than 189,000 emergency room visits and 3,500 deaths each year in the U.S. Teens and young adults under 21 years of age are more likely to binge drink or consume four or more alcoholic beverages in a short period of time. Binge drinking is directly related to the high rate of alcohol poisoning among youth who consume alcohol. Alcohol use in this demographic is associated with cognitive impairment, academic difficulties, and increased risk of alcohol use disorder in youth and into adulthood.

Alcohol poisoning is the immediate result of excessive alcohol consumption over a short period of time. It is estimated that six people die each day from alcohol poisoning in the U.S. Excessive consumption decreases brain function and can impact critical functions like breathing, heart rate and body temperature control. Other signs of alcohol poisoning can include vomiting, seizures and coma. If anyone experiences these symptoms call 911 immediately.

Alcohol use disorder can lead to the development of chronic and irreversible health problems. People with AUD have developed the following serious health issues:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Liver disease and digestive problems
  • Cancer
  • Immune deficiency
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Dementia
  • Mental health and social problems

If you drink alcohol, be responsible and know your limit. For questions and for more information about the effects of alcohol, call the Michigan Poison & Drug Information Center at the Wayne State University School of Medicine day or night at 1-800-222-1222.


Phil Van Hulle, Wayne State University School of Medicine
Phone: 586-206-8130
Email: pvanhulle@med.wayne.edu

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