Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Drinking: Facts for Teens
If I were 21 no one would care if I drink.
Not true. Even adults get warnings about the risks of alcohol. The major difference is that buying or drinking alcohol is illegal for people under age 21. Also, the younger you start drinking, the earlier alcohol can affect how you feel now and how you’ll feel when you’re older.
It’s not easy to “Just say no” when my friends are drinking.
Television and radio make it sound easy to “Just say no,” but it may not be so simple for you. You’re facing some real pressures: your friends may want you to drink with them, you may be stressed out at home, school or work, or you may think drinking is a way to make people like you. But remember, only you can make decisions about what you do or don’t do. This is your chance to be your own person. If you feel you need help to say no, then get the support you need. Talk to your family doctor or another adult you can trust.
How much alcohol is really in a drink?
Beer usually has 3% to 5% alcohol. Wine has 9% to 16%. Hard liquor usually contains the highest levels (up to 50%). Most states consider an adult to be “under the influence” or intoxicated (meaning drunk) at 0.08% blood level of alcohol. But for people under 21, many states have lowered their definition of intoxication to .02% or lower. For a man who weighs 160 pounds, this might mean as few as 1 to 2 beers (12 ounce cans) in an hour. For a woman who weighs 120 pounds, this might mean less than 1 beer in an hour.
Why should I say no to a beer or a drink?
Because alcohol is a drug and you can become addicted to it. It changes the way your mind and body work. Even 1 beer can slow your reactions and confuse your thinking. This means anything that requires concentration and coordination -- like driving -- is more dangerous when you’ve had a drink.
The coffee myth
Don’t believe the myth that coffee can make you sober. Coffee will only make you a wide-awake drunk. It won’t help you think faster or speed up your reactions. And coffee may hold the hidden danger of making you think you’re alert enough to drive when you really aren’t.
Alcohol also changes the way you act. It can make you let go of your inhibitions -- the feelings that normally keep you from doing things you know are risky or even dangerous. So a couple of beers might make it easier for you to talk to a cute guy or girl, or be the life of the party. But it can also lead you to make bad decisions -- like having sex before you’re ready, having unsafe sex or driving when you’ve been drinking. You might try to tell yourself, “It won’t happen to me.” But we all know people who have said that and then ended up in the hospital, or worse.
What problems does alcohol cause?
Alcohol can ruin your health. The more you drink, the more damage is done. You can get alcohol poisoning if you drink too much too fast. As the level of alcohol in your blood rises, the chemicals in your body can cause vomiting or seizures, or you may pass out. This type of poisoning will make you sicker than you’ve probably ever been.
Other things alcohol can do
  • Make you gain weight
  • Make you feel sick and dizzy
  • Make your breath smell bad
  • Make you throw up
  • Make you clumsy and slur your speech
  • Make your skin break out
  • Make you feel out of control
Cirrhosis of the liver is one of the most well-known effects of alcohol abuse. Cirrhosis stops the liver from being able to clean the toxins (poisons) out of your body, which can cause a type of poisoning. Alcohol can also cause stomach ulcers that can lead to internal bleeding. If you drink when you’re pregnant, your baby could be born mentally retarded or with other birth defects.
When is drinking a problem?
Drinking is a problem if it causes trouble in your relationships, your school or social activities, or how you think or feel.
A drinking problem usually starts when you just drink now and then. People often start drinking when they feel stressed or because their friends drink. Drinking may make you think that you will forget about your problems or make you feel more liked by others. But after the party or the next day you’re still the same person with the same problems. And you might have a new problem -- needing a drink.
How do I know if I have a problem?
Ask yourself the following questions to find out if you have a problem with alcohol. If you answer yes to any one of them, you probably have a drinking problem.
  1. Do you sometimes drink more than you mean to?
  2. Have you tried and failed to cut back on your drinking?
  3. Do you ever have hangovers?
  4. Have your problems at school, work or with your relationships increased?
  5. Do you keep drinking even though you know it’s causing you problems?
  6. Do you drink when you’re stressed out?
  7. Do you drink alone?
  8. Can you drink more than you used to be able to?
  9. Do you sometimes feel guilty about drinking?
  10. Do you feel uncomfortable when you haven’t had a drink?
  11. Do you ever have blackouts after you’ve been drinking?
  12. Do you regret things that you say or do when you’ve been drinking?
How can I stop drinking?
What causes a hangover?
As you drink, your body tries to make up for the changes alcohol causes. It “turns up” all of its senses. When the alcohol begins to wear off, these heightened senses cause shakiness, headaches and nausea. Everything may seem louder, bigger and faster.
The first step is to admit you have a problem and to get help. Talk to your family doctor, a school counselor, your family, or your minister or priest. The phone book is a good resource to find contact information for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other groups that help people quit.

Alcoholics Anonymous:www.aa.org
Alateen: www.al-anon.alateen.org/alateen.html
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence : www.ncadd.org
Mothers Against Drunk Driving: www.madd.org
Students Against Destructive Decisions:www.saddonline.com