Answers FAQ

Alcohol FAQs

Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

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Q:What is the "French paradox?"

A:The French paradox is the fact that French people have a lower death rate from heart disease than Americans, despite consuming a similar amount of high-fat food, smoking more, and exercising less.

Research has shown that drinking wine is linked to a lowering in the risk of death from heart and lung diseases.

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Q:There are no long-term effects of heavy alcohol consumption. True or false?

A:False.

While short-term use of alcohol can cause many health concerns, long-term use may cause chronic conditions including liver diseases, heart attacks, cancers, pancreatitis, and high blood pressure.

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

A:True.

Vomiting, coughing up blood, passing out, gasping for breath, and seizures can all occur in people with alcohol poisoning. If someone has these symptoms as a result of too much alcohol consumption, it is important to call 911 to access emergency help right away.

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Q:What are symptoms of alcoholism?

A:Cravings, loss of control, physical dependence, and tolerance.

Alcohol dependence is associated with cravings for the substance, loss of control once drinking has begun, withdrawal symptoms after stopping drinking that occur due to physical dependence, and an increasing tolerance, a need to consume more and more alcohol to achieve the same effect.

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

A:False.

Alcohol is metabolized in the body and is not stored. Upon consumption, up to 20% of alcohol can be absorbed directly in the stomach and passes directly into the bloodstream. The rest of the alcohol is absorbed in the intestines. The main site of alcohol metabolism in the body is the liver.

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Q:In most states, you are legally driving under the influence with a blood alcohol concentration of .08%. True or false?

A:True.

In all U.S. states, driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or above qualifies as a crime. Penalties and laws about drunk driving vary among U.S. states.

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

A:About five minutes after drinking alcohol, there is enough in the bloodstream to be measured.

The stomach absorbs some of the alcohol that is consumed, allowing it to pass quickly into the bloodstream. The rest of the alcohol is absorbed in the intestines. If there is no food in the stomach, the process happens faster than when the stomach is full.

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Q:What is the effect of alcohol on food?

A:Alcohol causes people to eat more.

Alcohol consumption leads to an increase in insulin production to combat the elevation in blood glucose that accompanies drinking. The insulin continues to remove glucose from the blood, leading to low blood glucose levels. This prompts a hunger response, so many people become hungry and eat more after drinking alcohol.

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Q:Why do women have higher blood alcohol concentrations than men?

A:Men are heavier than women and have relatively more water and less fat in their bodies.

Men and women are affected differently by drinking the same amount of alcohol. A woman's blood alcohol level is generally higher than a man's after consumption of the same amount, meaning that a woman will generally be more impaired than a man when both consume the same amount of alcohol.

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Q:At a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.39%, what can we infer?

A:Mild impairment of judgment can occur with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of as low as 0.05%. Judgment and reasoning are definitely impaired at a BAC of 0.08%. At 0.29% BAC, there is severe motor impairment and irregular breathing. Death is likely from low blood pressure and cessation of breathing at a BAC greater than 0.39%.

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

A:False.

Only time allows for alcohol to be metabolized and eliminated from the body, and caffeine cannot make someone sober once intoxicated with alcohol. Caffeine may cause the intoxicated person to be more awake, but he or she will be just as intoxicated and impaired with or without caffeine.

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

A:When we speak of alcohol, we are generally referring to ethanol.

Ethanol is one kind of alcohol and is the most common mind-altering drug used in the U.S. Further, it is one of the most commonly abused drugs throughout the world.

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

A:Metabolism is the processing and elimination of any substance from the body.

Alcohol is metabolized primarily by the liver, where specialized enzymes break down the alcohol. Only a certain amount of alcohol can be metabolized at a time, and the remaining alcohol circulates in the bloodstream until it can be metabolized.

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Q:What is cirrhosis?

A:Cirrhosis is a form of scarring of the liver that develops after repeated and long-term damage to the cells of the liver.

The scar tissue that forms in the liver interferes with the functions of the organ and can also partially block blood flow through the liver. A cirrhotic liver is typically small and contains nodules of liver tissue surrounded by bands of scar tissue.

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

A:False.

There is no amount of alcohol consumption that has been proved to be safe for pregnant women.

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

A:Almost 88,000 deaths occur in the U.S. each year due to alcohol abuse.

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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