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Alcohol

Brief Description

Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is an intoxicating ingredient found in beer, wine, and liquor. Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches. It is a central nervous system depressant that is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. A standard drink equals 0.6 ounces of pure ethanol, or 12 ounces of beer; 8 ounces of malt liquor; 5 ounces of wine; or 1.5 ounces (a "shot") of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey). NIDA does not conduct research on alcohol; for more information, please visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

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Effects

Alcohol affects every organ in the drinker's body and can damage a developing fetus. Intoxication can impair brain function and motor skills; heavy use can increase risk of certain cancers, stroke, and liver disease. Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is a diagnosable disease characterized by a strong craving for alcohol, and/or continued use despite harm or personal injury. Alcohol abuse, which can lead to alcoholism, is a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one's health, interpersonal relationships, or ability to work.

Statistics and Trends

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Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Alcohol for 8th Graders, 10th Graders, and 12th Graders; 2014 (in percent)*
Drug Time Period 8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Alcohol Lifetime 26.80 [49.30] [66.00]
Past Year 20.80 [44.00] 60.20
Past Month 9.00 [23.50] 37.40

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National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Trends in Prevalence of Alcohol for Ages 12 or Older, Ages 12 to 17, Ages 18 to 25, and Ages 26 or Older; 2013 (in percent)*
Drug Time Period Ages 12 or Older Ages 12 to 17 Ages 18 to 25 Ages 26 or Older
Alcohol Lifetime [81.50] 30.80 83.80 87.30
Past Year 66.30 [24.60] 76.80 69.60
Past Month 52.20 [11.60] 59.60 55.90

Related Publications

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Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition) (Featured Publication)

Published October 1999. Revised December 2012. Presents research-based principles of addiction treatment for a variety of drugs, including nicotine, alcohol, and illicit and prescription drugs, that can inform drug treatment programs and services. En Español

Nationwide Trends (DrugFacts)

Revised June 2015. Describes nationwide trends in drug abuse and addiction, focusing on past-month use for illicit drugs (including marijuana and prescription drugs), alcohol, and tobacco. En Español

Drug-Related Hospital Emergency Room Visits (DrugFacts)

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Treatment Statistics (DrugFacts)

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Related Resources

Other Resources

Past information on many drugs of abuse is available on our Archives site.

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This page was last updated November 2014

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National Institute on Drug Abuse. Alcohol Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/alcohol

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