Alcohol is the biggest drug problem facing society today and is widely abused because of its social acceptance and availability. Alcohol kills more people during the course of a day than all the other drugs combined. Almost half of all auto fatalities in the US are related to alcohol abuse or misuse. The total estimated cost of alcohol associated problems is $175.9 billion a year.


Alcohol is a  depressant and causes slowed reactions, slurred speech, uncoordinated and unsteady gait, sleepiness or drowsiness, lack of coordination, and impaired vision and judgment.


Alcohol is the most common drug used by teens.  Most teens have their first drink at home or in a friend’s home. Everyday 13,000 kids under the age of 21 and 7,000 kids under the age of 16 take their first drink. Kids who drink alcohol prior to age 15 are 4 times more likely to end up alcohol dependent than if they had waited until the legal age to drink. Teen's typically binge drink or play drinking games, which can result in alcohol poisoning and possibly death. Binge drinking is particularly dangerous because of the risk of alcohol poisoning (suppressed gag reflex and depressed respiratory drive) and death. Underage drinkers cost society $52.8 billion a year in medical costs due to traffic accidents, violent crime, suicides and other consequences.


Alcohol intoxication is also the leading cause of adolescent death, and is associated with suicide attempts, depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and ADHD.  Alcohol is also associated with greater sexual risk taking, academic problems, other substance abuse, and delinquent behavior.


The rate of absorption of alcohol from the stomach and intestinal tract is increased when it is mixed with soda or carbonated water or drinks containing artificial sweeteners.  Mixing accelerates emptying of the stomach resulting in greater blood alcohol peak and concentration. Females become intoxicated more quickly than males and are more susceptible than males to liver disease, heart muscle damage and brain damage. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can result in birth defects and in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.


Alcohol in the blood rapidly enters every organ and every cell. It directly affects the brain and is probably more toxic to the developing brain of the adolescent. The toxic metabolic byproduct of ethanol, acetaldehyde, can be found in the brain. Acetaldehyde, and its metabolic product, acetate, damages brain cells, affecting the function of these cells and resulting in cell injury or cell death.


Withdrawal may occur in chronic users and in binge drinkers and is due to an imbalance of two neurotransmitters: GABA (inhibitory) and glutamate (excitatory). Common symptoms are headache, nausea and vomiting, sweating and hypertension. In more severe cases, confusion, hallucinations, delirium tremens (DT’s) and seizures may occur. DT’s are particularly dangerous. The death rate is 5% in treated individuals and 35% if untreated. 


Indicators of Alcohol Use:


• Difficulty in recalling instructions
• Shortened attention span
• Thick, slurred speech
• Sluggish, sleepy
• Slowed reactions
• Uncoordinated & unsteady gait
• Faulty judgment
• Lack of coordination
• Greatly impaired driving ability


Alcohol consumed with other drugs


In an attempt to get more “high,” or to prolong the "high" users mix alcohol with other substances. Combination use is common among adolescents and college-age students.


Alcohol and caffeine


Abuse of the combination of alcohol and caffeine is dangerous and may be deadly. Commercial energy drinks with 12% alcohol are available in liquor stores and are showing up at teen parties. These drinks are packaged in bright colored cans and marketed to kids. Trade names include  Four Loko, Joose, Jilt and Tilt. Alcohol may be mixed with high-caffeine energy drinks to achieve the same effects.  Caffeine masks the effects of alcohol and the user may continue  drinking, often until he/she passes-out. A caffeine-containing inhaler, called Aero Shots, has hit the market and is being used in combination with alcohol.


Alcohol and Adderall (ADDY'S)


The combination of Adderall and alcohol is often described as a “safe” replacement to cocaine and alcohol but combining these may have deadly consequences. This combination is popular as a party-drug-cocktail that allows users to extend their partying, prolong the time before they act "drunk" and delay the onset of the depressive effects of alcohol. 


Because Adderall masks the depressive effects of alcohol, many users tend to ignore warning signs of excessive alcohol intake and physical harm. Prolonged use of this drug cocktail can lead to paranoia, anxiety, and severe depression. Physical signs include nausea, vomiting, weight loss, heart palpitations, and headaches. Chronic users may experience convulsions, irregular heartbeats, fevers, malnutrition, tremors, and muscle twitching.


Effects on infants and children: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)


Fetal alcohol syndrome is a cluster of related problems and birth defects that result from a women’s use of alcohol during pregnancy. In the US it is one of the leading causes of birth defects and the most common cause of preventable mental retardation. Each year 5000 to 12000 babies are born with this condition.  Signs of FAS include:


  • distinctive facial features
  • heart defects
  • deformities of joints, limbs and fingers
  • slow growth before and after birth, small head size
  • vision and hearing problems
  • mental retardation and delayed development
  • hyperactivity, poor impulse control, short attention span 

Because there is no known safe amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy women should not drink if they are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Women who drink frequently (4-5 alcoholic drinks/day) greatly increase the risk of FAS. A woman who drinks only lightly or occasionally before she realizes she is pregnant may or may not harm the developing baby. There is no cure for FAS.

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