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Alcohol and Health

20 Interesting Facts About Alcohol

March 7, 2024
24 min read
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
March 7, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Everyone knows that alcohol affects our brain and body, causing reckless behavior and possibly even leading to addiction and disease. However, several misconceptions about alcohol may affect your relationship with the substance, leading to misuse. Knowing the dangers and effects of drinking can help you make better decisions and avoid alcohol’s harmful effects. We’ll also share a bit of history and statistics about alcohol.

History of Alcohol

1. The history of alcohol dates back to at least 7000 BCE.

The first alcoholic beverage to be chemically verified was discovered in Jiahu, China, and it dates from the Early Neolithic period (7000-6000 BCE).

Researchers used modern processes to extract and analyze the fermented beverage from ancient high-necked pots. The drink was made of wild grapes, honey, rice, and hawthorn.

2. The United States banned alcohol nationwide from 1920 to 1933.

Under the 18th Amendment, the U.S. Constitution banned the alcohol trade due to alcohol-related issues such as alcoholism, immorality, domestic violence, and corruption. The ban started in January 1920 and lasted until 1933, a period known as the Prohibition Era.

3. Some Christian denominations use alcohol during religious ceremonies.

Many Christian traditions, like Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity, use wine during their ceremonies, particularly Communion or the Eucharist. This practice is based on the Last Supper, which Jesus shared with his disciples. The bread symbolizes his body, and the wine symbolizes his blood. Some Christian groups, including Protestants, prefer to use alcohol-free options like grape juice.

4. Culture heavily influences alcohol consumption.

While some cultures encourage and use alcohol in social, religious, or ceremonial practices, others discourage or reject alcohol consumption. These cultural attitudes affect our relationship with alcohol. They also influence drinking habits, like our choice of alcoholic beverages, how often and how much we drink, and when we drink — whether it's during meals, social gatherings, or specific ceremonies.

Facts About Alcohol

5. The alcohol content of alcoholic beverages varies considerably.

The amount of alcohol in different beverages varies, so how quickly we feel the alcohol’s effects varies, too.

  • Beer contains 4% to 6% alcohol.
  • Specialty beers or craft beers have a minimum of 10% alcohol.
  • Fermented fruit wines contain 9% to 16%.
  • Fortified wines like Port and Sherry contain 20% or higher.
  • Spirits like whiskey, vodka, and tequila contain 40% to 60% or higher.

6. Alcohol is high in calories.

A gram of alcohol has roughly 7 calories. A 12-ounce beer with 5% alcohol content contains about 150 calories. A shot of distilled spirits, such as vodka or whiskey, has about 100 calories, and a 5-ounce glass of wine may have about 120 calories.

7. Everyone reacts to alcohol differently.

Our reaction to alcohol will be different from that of the next person due to a number of factors.

  • Tolerance level. People with high tolerance levels need more alcohol to feel its full effect compared to those with low tolerance.
  • Body weight. The greater our body weight, the less affected we’ll be by a specific amount of alcohol.
  • Age and alcohol. Older adults feel the effects of alcohol more than younger adults.
  • Sex. Unlike women, males have high quantities of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) in their liver and stomachs. This enzyme reduces the absorption of alcohol, so men are less likely to get intoxicated when drinking the same amount as women. 

8. Some medications contain alcohol.

Some medications, like cough syrups, contain small amounts of alcohol to preserve them. The alcohol also acts as a solvent, dissolving some components so that the medicine can work properly. These doses are usually small and safe, but it’s vital to follow a doctor's or pharmacist’s directions. 

9. Alcohol can cause allergic reactions.

Some people’s bodies can’t process alcohol properly, so their immune systems respond with mild to severe allergic reactions. Some people are allergic to certain ingredients found in alcoholic beverages, like barley, wheat, or sulfite. These allergic reactions can vary widely:

  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Shortness of breath
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Flushed skin
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stuffy nose

10. Alcohol is a depressant.

Alcohol increases GABA activity, which calms the nervous system and suppresses glutamate, a “chemical messenger” responsible for excitement. Together, these two processes slow down brain signals, impairing judgment, motor skills, and our emotional state. Excessive levels of this depressant effect can cause more severe side effects, such as slurred speech, difficulty making decisions, and, in extreme situations, unconsciousness. Moderation is essential to enjoy alcohol’s calming benefits without danger.

11. Excessive alcohol can damage the liver.

The liver filters and detoxifies the blood by breaking down substances like alcohol. However, excessive alcohol makes it difficult for the liver to work correctly, causing fat buildup in the liver cells known as "fatty liver." Drinking over a prolonged period overwhelms the liver and causes scarring, known as cirrhosis. A scarred liver can’t work correctly, causing various health problems.

12. Alcohol causes sleepiness but disrupts the sleep cycle.

Alcohol might help us doze off initially, but we don’t get the restful, restorative sleep we need. A normal human sleep cycle has four stages. Experts reveal that alcohol affects the essential fourth stage, REM sleep, where deep sleep, dreaming, memory consolidation, and rejuvenation happen. Sleep disruption at this stage causes insomnia, a restless night, and an unproductive next day.

13. Dehydration contributes to the unpleasant effects of a hangover.

As a diuretic, alcohol makes the body extract fluids from your blood through your kidneys, ureters, and bladder much more quickly than usual. This fluid loss causes dehydration and all the symptoms that come with it: headaches, dizziness, low energy, and dry mouth. Consuming water or electrolyte-rich drinks helps us rehydrate, replenish lost fluids, and raise our body's hydration levels — all of which help us feel less uncomfortable after a hangover.

14. Having a high alcohol tolerance is harmful.

When we no longer feel the same effects with a certain amount of alcohol, our tolerance has increased, which can be dangerous. A high alcohol tolerance requires us to drink more to feel the same effects, which can lead to excessive drinking, a high addiction risk, and several health issues, including (in extreme cases) multiple organ failure. 

15. Long-term heavy drinking can lead to alcohol dependency.

Habitual drinking changes the brain's reward system, making it crave alcohol to function normally. This craving turns into compulsive drinking despite the consequences, which is a sign of alcoholism or alcohol dependency. Also, a longstanding drinking habit can result in physical dependence, a condition in which the body needs alcohol to function.

Alcohol Statistics

16. Binge drinking increases the risk of several health problems.

Binge drinking involves gulping down large amounts of alcohol quickly: four or more drinks in two hours for women and five or more drinks in two hours for men. Although binge drinking doesn’t mean we have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), binge drinking makes us more likely to develop one. Binge drinking is associated with several several health risks.

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver damage
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Injuries like falls and car crashes

Other risks include poor pregnancy outcomes (miscarriages and stillbirths) and violence, such as domestic violence, homicide, sexual assault, and suicide.

17. Alcohol use is a significant risk factor for dementia.

Alcohol-related dementia happens when someone drinks heavily over a long period, affecting cognition, memory, and general brain function. Overdrinking can cause nutritional deficiencies, like thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency, which worsens cognitive damage.  Long-term alcohol use has been linked to dementia. Alcohol-related dementia can coexist with other types of dementia, like Alzheimer's disease, and it may aggravate existing dementia symptoms.

18. Alcohol misuse contributes to various societal issues.

Overdrinking affects coordination, decision making, and reaction times, increasing the risk of car accidents, falls, and other issues. About 37 Americans die in drunk driving accidents every day. A study showed a connection to alcohol use with 86% of homicide offenders, 60% of sexual offenders, and 57% of men involved in marital violence. Alcohol also contributes to crimes like domestic abuse, assaults, and homicides. It causes aggression, leading to conflicts and violent behavior. Misusing alcohol affects not only the consumer’s physical and mental health but also families and communities.

19. Globally, the minimum legal drinking age ranges from 15 to 25 years old.

Generally speaking, buying a legal drink requires independence and maturity. Most countries have set their minimum legal drinking age at 18; most states in the U.S. have 21 years old as their standard; some countries ban alcohol altogether, while some countries allow young people to start drinking legally as early as age 15. Here’s a list of some countries and their minimum legal drinking ages.

 Countries and Their Minimum Legal Drinking Ages

In some countries, like India, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates, the legal drinking age varies by region.

20. Alcohol is one of the leading preventable causes of death in the U.S.

Here are some alcohol-related death statistics specific to the United States. 

  • Each year, about 97,000 males and 43,000 females lose their lives to excessive alcohol use.
  • AUD is the second most common mental disorder, affecting 1 in 4 people who die by suicide.
  • In 2021, 31% of all driving fatalities in the U.S. were alcohol-impaired (13,384 deaths).
  • Alcohol-related deaths rose from approximately 79,000 in 2019 to over 99,000 in 2020 (a 25.5% increase).
  • 21% of suicide decedents have blood alcohol concentrations of 0.1% or higher.

Make Better Choices

The more we know about alcohol, the better equipped we’ll be to consume it responsibly and avoid harmful effects on our body and the people around us. Making informed choices will help us have a healthier relationship with alcohol.

Summary FAQs

1. How far back does the history of alcohol production date?

Alcohol's historical origins date back to around 7000 BCE, discovered in Jiahu, China, during the Early Neolithic period.

2. What was the significance of the Prohibition Era in the United States?

The Prohibition Era (1920-1933) was a nationwide ban on the alcohol trade due to concerns about its adverse social effects, including alcoholism, violence, and corruption.

3. What is the range of alcohol content in different beverages?

Alcohol content varies: beer (4-6%), fruit wines (9-16%), fortified wines like Port (20%+), and spirits (40-60%).

4. How does alcohol consumption affect individuals differently?

Various factors, including tolerance level, body weight, age, and gender, influence how people react to alcohol differently.

5. What are the risks associated with binge drinking?

Binge drinking poses several health risks, including heart disease, liver damage, injuries, and an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases and certain cancers.

6. How does dehydration contribute to a hangover?

Alcohol acts as a diuretic, causing dehydration by accelerating fluid loss from the body, leading to hangover symptoms like headaches and dry mouth.

7. Why is a high alcohol tolerance harmful?

A high alcohol tolerance necessitates increased alcohol intake for the same effects, leading to excessive drinking, heightened health risks, and potential organ failure.

8. What societal issues are linked to alcohol misuse?

Alcohol misuse contributes to societal problems such as accidents, violence, crimes, and conflicts, impacting both individuals and communities.

More Knowledge Means Better Choices

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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