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Safety and Legal Risks of Underage Drinking

Consumption of alcoholic beverages, used by many to "unwind" or relax, is widely known to be a social "ice-breaker." The problem with alcohol consumption, however, is that humans tend to become addicted to the drug, and many suffer severe, life-altering effects from becoming addicted to the drug. Numerous studies have shown that regular drinking begun during the teenage years can lead to a higher incidence of lifetime addiction to alcohol. Moreover, the cumulative health impact from long-term ingestion of alcohol can result in serious health risks such as liver damage, reduced brain function, increased risk of stroke and a host of other maladies. Because alcoholic beverages may alter one's mood by decreasing inhibitions, alcohol is the most common "date rape" drug. Many new drugs and chemicals are now used by sexual predators to sedate a potential victim. However, alcohol is still the leading substance used by predatotory criminals seeking to cover up a rape.


Alcohol and Tobacco are the Two Most Commonly Abused Substances by Minors seeking to Emulate Adults

Alcohol consumption is widely accepted, often providing the cornerstone of social gatherings and celebrations. Along with tobacco use, many adolescents associate the use of alcohol as a rite of passage into adulthood. While the use and consumption of alcohol is prevalent and acceptable in our society, it should not come as a surprise that problems arise in the use of alcohol by those under age 21, such as public intoxication, underage possession of alcohol by a minor, DUI-DWI, and even felony offenses predicated upon impaired driving such as vehicular homicide (manslaughter by vehicle), serious injury by vehicle or even MURDER in several states. These offenses can lead to state prison time for the remainder of the offender's life. Tobacco use that begins before age 16 will likely be the source of that user's death within the next 50 to 60 years. Longevity of lifetime smokers is reduced by at least 25% over non-tobacco users. Plus, quality of life of users is greatly diminished.


Pharmacological Facts about Alcohol and Why the Smell of an Alcoholic Beverage creates Arrests

It's a sedative (induces sleep), hypnotic (causes a loss of touch with reality), and addicting (creates a psychological craving for the substance) drug. Yes, alcohol is a DRUG, just like many prescribed pills or liquid pharmacy compounds. Alcohol impairs judgment and leads to behavior that can easily contribute to, or cause accidents. Because all alcoholic beverages contain various CONGENERS [impurities produced through the fermentation process] or the by-products from brewing or fermentation, or the additives and chemicals that distillers add to distilled beverages (such as scotch whiskey) a distinctive, telltale odor of an alcoholic beverage will be detectable from the person's breath and perspiration as the beverage is metabolized (burned off) within the human body. This smell "flags" the attention of police officers or others who will inform police officers of illegal consumption of alcohol by minors.


Both Alcohol and Tobacco are Contraband Substances for Underage Users

One of the most difficult concepts for many teen users of alcohol or tobacco is that these ubiquitous products are TOTALLY CONTRABAND for use by minors. Tobacco use is generally prohibited for those under age 18, and alcohol use is prohibited for use by anyone under age 21. Merely being in POSSESSION of these products for "minors" is a crime. Any other abuse, such as DUI-DWI compounds the potential legal problems. For example, having a container of alcohol inside a car being occupied by teenagers will result (in South Carolina) in ALL the people --- driver and passengers --- losing their driving privileges. Hence, the laws are written by SC Legislators very broadly to interdict the use or possession of alcohol by those under age 21 when occupying a vehicle.


Alcohol Intake is Unpredictable When it Comes to Estimating the Level of Impairment that will Result

When alcohol is consumed, the drug is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. Some absorption occurs in the mouth, esophagus and stomach, but the majority (80% to 90%) is typically absorbed through the pyloric valve that is located just below the stomach in the small intestines. Once absorbed, the alcohol is transported by the blood throughout the body and permeates every organ and tissue --- eyes, heart muscle, brain, bones and connective tissue. Its toxic effects vary considerably from person to person, and are influenced by variables such as gender, lean (muscle) body mass, rate of consumption (time), and total quantity consumed. An average "drink" will typically contain approximately 0.38 to 0.57 of pure alcohol. The problem with this standard is that not every bartender or server of alcohol pours a standard drink quantity of the beverage in question. Often, a drink being consumed is DOUBLE the standard jigger or drink size. This can cause disasterous results.


Chart to Help you know a "Ballpark" Quantity of Alcohol in Several Common Types of Beverage

Table Wine (white), 4 ounces, 0.43 ounces of pure alcohol; Table Wine (red), 4 ounces, 0.48 ounces of pure alcohol; Malt Beverage, 12 ounces, 0.57 ounces of pure alcohol; Regular Beer, 12 ounces, 0.53 ounces of pure alcohol; Light Beer, 12 ounces, 0.48 ounces of pure alcohol; Champagne, 4 ounces, 0.48 ounces of pure alcohol; Vodka (100 proof), 1 ounce, 0.50 ounces of pure alcohol; Whiskey (86 proof), 1 1/4 ounces, 0.50 ounces of pure alcohol. Of great importance here is the fact that a 12 ounce regular beer and even more potent, a 12 ounce malt liquor (type of beer) are more potent per serving than 86 proof whiskey [at 1.25 ounces] or 100 proof vodka [1 ounce] , in the usual quantities served.


How Fast can Alcohol be Absorbed and How Quickly can Alcohol be Eliminated?

The average, healthy person who does not have liver problems eliminates (metabolizes) pure alcohol at a fairly constant rate - about .30 oz. (smaller persons weighing 100 to 130 pounds) to .50 oz. (larger persons weighing 170 pounds or more) of pure alcohol per hour, which is roughly equivalent to the amount of pure alcohol contained in any of the popular drinks listed above. This rate of elimination of alcohol is relatively constant for each individual, regardless of the total amount of alcohol consumed. Therefore, a person who recklessly drinks down a large quantity of an alcoholic beverage either risks permanent brain damage, respiratory arrest or even death from the risk of reaching a toxic level of alcohol in his or her body before the normal bodily functions of elimination can remove it from the person's body. Incidentally, exercise, coffee drinking and urinating have virtually NO IMPACT on reducing blood alcohol levels. Only TIME and good liver function will remove it.


Binge Drinking Risks Everything from Bad Decision-Making to Arrest for DUI-DWI or Underage Consumption of Alcohol

Reckless consumption of alcohol by teenagers identifies the problem for anyone who "binge" drinks or "chugs" alcoholic beverages as part of a dare or a "contest." As can be determined from the previous section of this article, whether a person consumes one drink per hour or rapidly consumes many drinks, the rate of alcohol elimination from the drinker's body is essentially the same. For a small-framed person weighing 120 pounds or less, the quantity of a high alcohol-content beverage consumed can be fairly small and yet serious injury or death can occur. Most medical authorities consider that five (5) or more alcoholic beverages at one drinking session to be "binge" drinking. Plus, due to "zero tolerance", anyone under age 21 risks arrest for underage consumption or possession of alcohol, even if the police encounter a teen walking down the street or merely being a passenger in a car or truck being driven by someone else who gets pulled over at a roadblock or routine traffic stop.

Additional Resources

Book of DUI Laws

The Author's Web Site

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