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Frequently Asked Questions

A standard drink contains about .6 fluid ounces, or 14 grams, of pure alcohol. Each of the drinks pictured here contain approximately the same amount of alcohol and are considered to be a “standard drink.” 

No. The amount of alcohol you consume matters more than the type of alcohol you are drinking. Drinking enough of any alcohol will make you sick, whether it’s wine, beer or liquor.

The effects of any amount of drinking are dependent on more than just the alcohol itself. Factors such as medication, our diet, sleep habits and gender can influence alcohol tolerance. Two people of roughly the same weight and sex can consume the same amount of alcohol, with one appearing very intoxicated and the other showing no signs of being drunk.

Take our self-screening tool here. If you think you might have a problem, our information and referral specialist at 2-1-1 or Alaska211@ak.org is ready to help you. For a formal assessment, contact your health care provider.

According to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there were 139.7 million current alcohol users aged 12 or older in the U.S. in 2014, with 23 percent classified as binge drinkers and 6.2 percent as heavy drinkers. About 17 million of these, or 6.4 percent, met criteria for an alcohol use disorder in the past year. In Alaska, approximately 58,716 Alaskan residents 18 years or older are abusing or are dependent on alcohol or drugs—that’s approximately one in every 12 Alaskans.

When you drink an alcoholic beverage, the alcohol enters your bloodstream through your stomach and intestines and within a few minutes, reaches your heart, brain, muscles and other tissues. Ethanol, the component of alcohol that makes you feel drunk, has molecules that are small enough to pass into the gaps between brain cells. When they do, they interfere with the neurotransmitters that are responsible for all the brain’s activities. This affects the body’s functions, including slowing down your reaction time, making you less coordinated, impairing your vision and making it harder to think clearly and make good decisions. Alcohol also makes you less inhibited as it affects the parts of the brain responsible for self-control.

On average, it takes about one hour for your body to break down one standard drink. A standard drink contains about .6 fluid ounces, or 14 grams, of pure alcohol. This translates to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

Good question. Unless you have access to a breathalyzer, there is really no way to know your blood alcohol level. A BAC of .08 or lower is the point of legal intoxication; it’s illegal to drive if your BAC is over .08. However, the ONLY guaranteed safe level for driving is .00. If you’ve been drinking, the only way to get your BAC to .00 is to wait at least 45 minutes per drink.

In the state of Alaska, driving under the influence is a crime and applies to the operation or physical control of a vehicle, boat or plane while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or drug (defined in AS 11.71.140-190). You are under the influence of alcohol if your BAC is higher than .08. For more information about Alaska’s alcohol laws, visit the state’s Alcohol & Marijuana Control Office.

Quitting alcohol “cold turkey” means stopping alcohol consumption completely without slowly weaning off of it. Quitting “cold turkey” can be dangerous for chronic drinkers. If you have a moderate to severe alcohol use disorder, you should seek a medically supervised withdrawal. If you or someone you know needs help quitting alcohol, we are here to help. Call us at 2-1-1 or email us at Alaska211@ak.org.

Alcohol poisoning and alcohol overdose are not the same thing. You can think of an overdose as drinking enough to compromise your safety. The higher the blood level of alcohol, the higher the level of impairment. Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone continues to drink despite clear symptoms of overdose (speech impairment, trouble walking, impaired judgement), consuming a toxic amount of alcohol. Alcohol poisoning can be life threatening; symptoms include seizures, trouble breathing and unresponsiveness, among others. If you thinking someone might have alcohol poisoning, it’s important to get medical help immediately by calling 9-1-1.

Research indicates that there is a strong correlation between drinking alcohol and several types of cancer. The more alcohol someone consumes, the higher his or her risk of developing one of these alcohol-related cancers, which includes head and neck, esophageal, liver, breast and colorectal cancer.

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that women don’t exceed one drink per day while men don’t exceed two drinks per day. The guidelines also state that the following individuals should never drink alcohol:

     Children and adolescents.

     Individuals of any age who cannot limit their drinking
      to low levels.

     Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant.

     Individuals who plan to drive, operate machinery or
     take part in other activities that require attention,
     skill, or coordination.

     Individuals taking prescription or over-the-counter
     medications that can interact with alcohol.

     Individuals with certain medical conditions.

     Individuals recovering from alcoholism.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of alcohol consumption that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08 percent or more. This usually corresponds with five or more drinks on a single occasion for men or four or more drinks on a single occasion for women, generally within about two hours.

The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines heavy drinking as five or more drinks on one occasion on five or more days in the past 30 days.

Scientific studies have shown that a vulnerability to alcoholism can be inherited; however, there are many factors that increase someone’s risk, including coming from a home with an actively alcoholic parent, or a home in which there is domestic violence and other forms of abuse. Children are also at higher risk if their parents do not actively supervise them and if their friends drink.

Yes. Alcoholism can be treated, but it cannot be cured. Even if an alcoholic has been sober for a long time, he or she can still relapse. Cutting back on alcohol doesn’t work for an alcoholic; it must be avoided completely for a successful recovery.

Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is now referred to as “Alcohol Use Disorder.” It is defined as the use of heavy doses of alcohol with resulting repeated and significant distress or impaired functioning. While most drinkers sometimes consume enough alcohol to feel intoxicated, only a minority (less than 20 percent) ever develop Alcohol Use Disorder defined by the following criteria:

     A strong need or craving for alcohol.

     The inability to cut down or control alcohol use.

     Larger amounts over a longer period than was intended.

     A great deal of time is spent in obtaining, using and
     recovering from alcohol.

     Continued drinking despite having persistent or recurrent
     social or interpersonal problems caused.

     Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are
     given up or reduced because of alcohol.

     Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically
     hazardous.

     Withdrawal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. advises that there is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. When you drink alcohol, so does your growing baby. Alcohol can pass from the mother’s blood into the baby’s blood, affecting the growth of the baby’s brain and spinal cord cells. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) describes the range of effects alcohol can have on a growing baby, from mild to severe. Drinking alcohol while pregnant may cause a child to have mental or physical problems that can last a lifetime.

A functioning alcoholic is someone who abuses alcohol but appears to be just fine in other areas of his or her life. A functioning alcoholic might have a great job, home or social life, while continuing with his or her alcoholism. Aside from the long-term health impacts of being a functioning alcoholic, it is important to consider the other personal and safety impacts that alcoholism is having on an individual’s spouse, family members, finances and community. The risks of being a functioning alcoholic can be just as serious as they are for someone with a more obvious addiction to alcohol.

For women, low-risk drinking is defined as no more than 3 drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks per week. For men, it is defined as no more than 4 drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week.

Certain people should avoid alcohol completely, including those who:

     Plan to drive a vehicle or operate machinery.

     Take medications that interact with alcohol.

     Have a medical condition that alcohol can aggravate.

     Are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

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