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Alcohol FAQs

Reviewed by Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

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Q:What is the "French paradox"?

A:An idea that wine-drinking French die less from heart disease. The French paradox refers to the observation that the French have a lower mortality rate from heart disease than Americans, even though they eat similar amounts of high-fat foods, exercise less, and smoke more. Studies have shown that the frequency of wine drinking was independently related to a lower incidence of deaths due to coronary heart disease and respiratory diseases.

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Q:What are some long-term effects of heavy alcohol consumption?

A:Pancreatitis, cirrhosis, and alcoholic hepatitis, heart disease, heart attack, and cancer and high blood pressure and alcohol abuse. Some problems with alcohol can occur after drinking over a relatively short period of time. Other problems such as liver disease, heart disease, certain forms of cancer, pancreatitis, and alcoholic hepatitis often develop more gradually and may become evident only after long-term heavy drinking.

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Q:What is dipsophobia?

A:Fear of alcohol. Dipsophobia describes an abnormal and persistent fear of drinking alcohol. Sufferers of this fear experience undue anxiety about addiction to alcohol and the effect this addiction can have on their bodies. (However, their abstinence from alcohol certainly should not be criticized.) Fear of alcohol is termed "dipsophobia," a word derived from the Greek words "dipsa" (thirst) and "phobos" (fear). "Dipsa" is also used to form the words "dipsomania" (an abnormal craving for alcohol) and "dipsosis" (a medical condition characterized by abnormal thirst).

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Q:Symptoms of alcohol poisoning can include coughing blood. True or False?

A:True. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning can include vomiting, coughing up blood, gasping for breath, passing out, and seizures. In the event that you are with someone who is experiencing these symptoms as a result of alcohol consumption, it is important to call 911 right away.

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Q:What are symptoms of alcoholism?

A:Cravings, loss of control, physical dependence, and tolerance. Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, is a disease that includes the following four symptoms: - Craving: A strong need, or urge, to drink - Loss of control: Not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun - Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking - Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get "high"

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Q:Alcohol can be stored in the body and the brain. True or False?

A:False. The nutrients protein, carbohydrates, and fat can be stored in our bodies, but alcohol cannot. For this reason, it takes priority over everything else in order to be metabolized; doing so means that all of the other processes that should be taking place are being interrupted. Other nutrients need to be broken up prior to being absorbed, whereas alcohol is absorbed as is.

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Q:If a woman and a man are the same weight, the woman will have a higher BAC because?

A:Women tend to have more fat on their bodies. Women's bodies, on average, have more fat and less water than men's bodies. Using the same logic, this means that a woman will reach a higher BAC than a man of the same weight when both drink the same amount of alcohol.

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Q:How long does it take to have enough alcohol in your blood to measure?

A:Five minutes. Within five minutes of having a drink, there's enough alcohol in your blood to measure. The BAC is determined by how quickly alcohol is absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and excreted.

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Q:What is the effect of alcohol on food?

A:Alcohol causes people to eat more. Studies have shown that in the short term, alcohol stimulates food intake and can also increase subjective feelings of hunger. Other studies have shown that the stimulatory effects of alcohol on food intake are controlled by hormonal regulation of satiety and satiation, such as the hormone leptin. Regardless of the cause, the outcome is the same; people consume more food when they have consumed alcohol.

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Q:The smell of alcohol on the breath indicates a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC). True or False?

A:False. There is a very poor correlation between the strength of the smell of alcohol on the breath and the BAC. Pure alcohol has very little smell. It is the metabolism of other substances in alcoholic beverages that produces most of the smell. This explains why a person who drinks large amounts of high-proof vodka (a more pure form of alcohol) may have only a faint smell of alcohol on the breath. On the other hand, a person who drinks a modest amount of beer may have a strong smell of alcohol on the breath.

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Q:At a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.10%, what can we infer?

A:At 0.05% BAC, a person's judgment becomes impaired, At 0.20% BAC, a person is likely to have double vision and At 0.40% BAC, a person is likely to be in a comatose state. At 0.05% BAC: Loss of emotional restraint, vivaciousness, mild impairment of judgment At 0.10% BAC: Slurring speech, loss of control of fine motor skills (such as writing) At 0.20% BAC: Very slurred speech, trouble walking, double vision, memory loss At 0.30% BAC: Stuporous, deep snoring, difficult to awaken At 0.40% BAC: Comatose, incontinent, low blood pressure, irregular breathing At 0.50% BAC: Death likely from low blood pressure, arrested breathing, or drowning in vomit

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Q:Caffeine and alcoholic drinks with caffeine slow intoxication and speed sobering. True or False?

A:False. Nothing will speed up the sobering process. Caffeine (by drinking coffee) and cold showers have a minimal and very temporary effect. Only time can cause a person to become sober.

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Q:There are many types of alcohol. Intoxication as we know it is caused by which form of alcohol?

A:Ethanol. Alcohol is a generic term for ethanol, which is a particular type of alcohol produced by the fermentation of many foodstuffs – most commonly barley, hops, and grapes. Ethanol produces intoxication because of its depressive effects on various areas of the brain, causing these impairments in a progressive order as the person gets more and more drunk. Other types of alcohol commonly available such as methanol (common in glass cleaners), isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol), and ethylene glycol (automobile antifreeze solution) are highly poisonous when swallowed, even in small quantities.

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Q:How can two people the same weight have different blood alcohol content (BAC)?

A:Plump person. Two people may weigh the same, yet their bodies may have different proportions of tissue containing water and fat. Think of a tall, thin person and a short, fat person who both weigh 150 pounds. The short, fat person will have more fat and less water making up his body than the tall, thin person. If both people, in this example, consume the same amount of alcohol, the short, fat person will end up with a higher BAC. This is because the alcohol he drank was spread into a smaller water "space."

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Q:What does it mean to "metabolize" alcohol?

A:To eliminate alcohol from the body. Metabolism, or elimination, is the method by which the body processes alcohol (and everything else you eat or drink). Some of the alcohol is converted to other substances (such as fat, as in "beer belly"). Some is burned as energy (and converted to water and carbon dioxide). A small amount is excreted unchanged (in your breath and urine). The liver metabolizes about 90% of the ethanol. The lungs excrete about 5% during exhalation (breathing out). Alcohol excretion by the lungs forms the basis for Breathalyzer testing. Another 5% is excreted into the urine.

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Q:What is cirrhosis?

A:Permanent scarring of the liver and destruction of the relationship between blood and liver cells. Causes of cirrhosis include long–term, heavy use of alcohol, chronic viral hepatitis, blocked bile ducts, inherited diseases, and certain medications. In cirrhosis, the relationship between blood and liver cells is destroyed. Even though the liver cells that survive or are newly formed may be able to produce and remove substances from the blood, they do not have the normal, intimate relationship with the blood, and this interferes with the liver cells' ability to add or remove substances from the blood. The inflammation and repair that is associated with the dying liver cells causes scar tissue to form.

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Q:A child who suffers the effects of being exposed to alcohol in the womb will exhibit distinct facial features?

A:Usually not. Individuals who exhibit the distinct facial features associated with being exposed to alcohol in the womb have full-blown fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and are usually exposed to the most excessive amounts of alcohol on a frequent basis. Much more often, people with a history of alcohol exposure before birth show no outward physical signs of the exposure. Rather, they tend to exhibit behavioral, emotional, and learning problems.

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Q:Two glasses of wine consumed by a pregnant woman twice per week has been found to be safe for the developing fetus. True or False?

A:False. No amount of alcohol has been proven to be safe for a fetus during pregnancy.

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Q:About how many people die each year due to alcohol abuse in the United States?

A:100,000. Nearly 100,000 Americans die each year as a result of alcohol abuse, and alcohol is a factor in more than half of the country's homicides, suicides, and traffic accidents.

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Q:Teens whose parents closely monitor their activities are less likely to use alcohol. True or False?

A:True. Research shows that the influence of peers on teen alcohol use is strong, but it is mediated by family characteristics, like parental tolerance of alcohol, alcohol use by siblings, and by how closely parents monitor their teen's activities. Parents who are perceived as being more tolerant of their teen using alcohol or who monitor their child's activities less closely tend to have teens who are far more likely to use alcohol. Adolescents who have an older sibling who uses alcohol are more than 70% more likely to use alcohol as well.

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Q:In the U.S., at what blood alcohol content (BAC) level is a person considered legally intoxicated?

A:.08%. In the U.S., you are legally intoxicated with a blood alcohol concentration of .08%. Time is the only way to eliminate alcohol from your system, so cold showers and coffee will not sober you up. Trying to get someone who is drunk to feel and appear more alert can cause a false sense of sobriety and result in many problems.

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