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What is Alcohol?

Alcohol


Alcohol has been around in various cultures for almost 10 000 years. It is widely used in Canada, and is closely associated with parties and celebrations. In 2009, alcohol was consumed by 77% of Canadians aged 15 and over (Health Canada). It has a huge presence in the College and University environments, and most students claim to have drunk alcohol at some point during their time at school.

Alcohol is produced by fermenting and sometimes distilling various fruits, vegetables, or grains. Fermentation is the process where sugars such as gluctose, fructose, and sucrose are converted into ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide. 
When we consume alcohol, it provides our bodies with energy; each gram of alcohol contains 7 calories of energy.  By comparison, one gram of fat contains 9 calories, one gram of carbohydrate or protein 4 calories.

Interestingly, ethanol has had a wide variety of uses apart from being found in alcoholic beverages. Among other things, it has been used as a fuel source, an antiseptic and even an antidote for poisoning for other more toxic alcohols.

Alcohol is classified as a drug. It
is a toxic substance that depresses the central nervous system and has the capacity to produce physical and behavioural dependency. It is the depressant action of alcohol that brings about most of the commonly observed effects of drinking. The initial euphoric effect makes it appear to be a stimulant however this soon gives way to lethargy and a less active response as deeper structures of the brain are affected.


In small doses, alcohol leaves people feeling relaxed and pleasantly happy. At higher doses, alcohol can cause decreased awareness, judgement, coordination and vision.  At very high levels, it can lead to loss of motor function, stupor, unconsciousness (a complete inability to respond to stimuli), depressed respiration and even death.


What is a standard drink?

A standard drink contains 1 serving or 0.6 oz or 17 ml. of alcohol. Each of the following is one standard-sized drink and contains the same quantity of alcohol:

  • Beer / Cooler    4 – 5% alcohol         1 bottle       12 oz.     341 ml
  • Beer / Cooler    7% alcohol               2/3 bottle      8 oz.      230 ml
  • Wine                 10 – 12% alcohol       1 glass         5 oz.        42 ml
  • Liquor                40% alcohol              1 shot          1.5 oz      43 ml

Quick Quiz
:  What contains more alcohol, a half mickey of vodka or 5 x 7% coolers?

 

Queen's Heath, Counselling and Disabilities Services

Queen's Heath, Counselling and Disabilities Services, Queen's University
healthed@queensu.ca