Facts About Alcohol

Facts About Alcohol

Frequently Asked Questions Students Ask Us About Alcohol 


What is a standard sized drink?

  • 12 oz. Beer
  • 10 oz. of microbrew
  • 8 oz. of ice beer or a malt liquor
  • 4 oz. wine
  • 1.25 oz. of 80 proof liquor, or 1 oz. of 100 proof liquor

A standard drink helps you figure out how much “pure alcohol” you are consuming when you drink.  Different drinks have different amounts of alcohol  so it is important to know how much alcohol is in a drink, to better calculate Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) and to better keep track when drinking. 

Back to top


When is drinking considered high risk? 

Drinking any amount can be high risk, even at low doses. Alcohol affects judgment and impairment. If you choose to drink, follow these recommendations:

  • Men: Drink no more than 0-2 standard drinks a day
  • Women: Drink no more than 0-1 standard drinks a day
  • No more than 3 standard drinks on any occasion
  • Drinking no more than one standard drink per hour (12 oz. Beer, 4 oz. Wine, 1.25 oz. 80 proof liquor)

Remember, not drinking is the safest choice!

Back to top


As a female, why can’t I drink the same as my male friends? 

Many variables such as body weight, size, how fast you drink, fitness level, whether you’ve eaten and the amount of alcohol consumed will determine the affect alcohol has on an individual.

  • Women’s response to alcohol may fluctuate during their menstrual cycle & be affected by the use of contraceptives.
  • Women have more fat content and less lean muscle mass than men. Lean muscle contains more water which absorbs alcohol from the bloodstream and lowers blood alcohol content. Women absorb alcohol into the bloodstream faster than men and eliminate it slower.
  • Women have 1/3 less of alcohol dehydrogenase (enzyme responsible for the breakdown of alcohol) in their bodies.

This means women will become intoxicated faster, eel the effects longer and get addicted with less amount of alcohol & over shorter period of time.

Back to top


If I choose to drink, how can I drink safely?

Remember, there are many levels of risk - legal, social and physical risk.  Even a small amount of alcohol can increase risk, especially if the user is under 21.  It is important to remember that any amount of alcohol can create a problem.

UNH surveys show that 14% of UNH students report they do not drink at all and about 1/4 of all UNH students refrain from drinking on any given week. For more information, visit the New Hampshire Higher Education Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Survey.

When drinking, it is best to drink slowly to slow down the rate of alcohol absorption in the blood stream. Alcohol dehydrates, therefore, you should be well hydrated before you begin to drink and should alternate your drinks with water or other non-alcoholic drinks. Don’t forget to eat a meal before drinking.

Back to top


When is it best not to drink?

  • When you are driving
  • When you are sick
  • When you are tired
  • When you are taking any medication (prescription, non-prescription or illicit drugs)
  • You have other responsibilities
  • If you are angry, sad or depressed
  • If you are under the age of 21
  • If you are pregnant

Back to top


What is alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is when the body’s functions have been severely depressed by the effects of alcohol, enough to produce unconsciousness and in some cases, death. 
Signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Cold clammy skin
  • Unconsciousness
  • Slowed or irregular breathing
  • Vomiting

It can be difficult to determine if a person has alcohol poising or is just “sleeping off” a night of drinking. If ever in doubt, call 911.

Back to top

What if I would like to speak to someone about my drinking or drug use but am not ready to change?

If you want to talk with a counselor about your own alcohol or other drug use, how to lower your risk level, or to quit drinking or using other drugs then you are taking a positive step! An ATOD Educator/Counselor, who specializes in working with college students, can help you determine if you have a problem and how to lower your risk. There are also community resources available around Durham.

Back to top

What do I do if I’m worried about a friend’s use of alcohol or other drugs? 

How we talk to our friends about our concerns is very important. Here are some tips:

  • Wait until your friend is not under the influence of alcohol or other drugs to talk
  • Allow enough time for your discussion so you don’t feel rushed
  • Stay calm
  • Use “I” statements: I’ve noticed that you have been acting different lately; I‘ve noticed that you act very different when you are drinking or using drugs and often times you don’t remember what you said or did; I miss the fun we used to have not drinking or using drugs; I’ve missed you in classes and it seems like you are missing a lot of other classes the night after you drink or party
  • Ask them to talk to someone, there are resources on campus and in the local community that can be of help.

This is very difficult to do. Your friend may become defensive or say that they are “fine.” Many times, someone will change or seek out help after being confronted. Remember, you are a good friend for being brave enough to express your concern.

Back to top


What if I want to talk to someone about a friend or family member’s drinking or other drug use?

ATOD Educator/Counselors are available to talk with you about how to cope with someone else’s drinking or other drug use and offer you suggestions on how to get them help. Al-Anon is a 12-step support group that can offer you support from others dealing with the same issues.

Back to top


What is a blackout?

Blackouts are periods of memory loss due to drinking, large amounts of alcohol rapidly. Learn more about blackouts…

Back to top


What happens when you mix alcohol with other drugs? 

Mixing alcohol with other drugs (prescription, non-prescription or illegal) is never a good idea. Doing so can lead to:

  • Quicker intoxication
  • Greater physical and mental impairment
  • Increased risk of accidents or death
  • Interference with the effectiveness of medications

Mixing alcohol with other drugs such as tranquilizers, sleeping pills, pain killers or antihistamines can be very dangerous, even fatal. 

Back to top

How is alcohol absorbed?

Approximately 20% of the alcohol a person consumes is absorbed in the stomach, while roughly 80% is absorbed in the small intestine.  Alcohol is water soluble.  It quickly travels throughout the body via the blood stream and crosses over into organs and tissue according to their water content. Fat, skin, and resting muscle tissue do not generally have a high blood flow or water content, and therefore absorb less alcohol.   The type of alcohol, amount, time frame, and stomach contents prior to and during drinking will affect the speed at which absorption takes place. When the stomach is empty, the alcohol absorbed can reach the brain within one minute.

Back to top

How does alcohol leave the body?

Alcohol is eliminated from the body by excretion and metabolism. Approximately 5% of the alcohol you drink is exhaled from your lungs.  A breathalyzer uses this percentage in a calculation to determine your blood alcohol level.  An additional 5% is excreted in sweat and urine.  The liver is the primary organ which chemically breaks down the remaining 90% of the alcohol when you drink. Regardless of the amount of alcohol you drink, the liver can only process about one drink each hour. 

Back to top

What does alcohol do to the stomach?

Alcohol is an irritant, which is what causes the burning sensation in your mouth and throat.  This burning sensation is most evident when a person drinks “straight” or undiluted liquor.   Any form of alcohol (beer, wine, mixed drinks) causes irritation in the lining of the stomach and intestines.  This irritation of the stomach can lead to vomiting.

Back to top

How does alcohol effect the liver?

The liver is the organ that has the primary responsibility for breaking down alcohol in the body. When alcohol is consumed, the liver gives top priority to metabolizing alcohol over maintaining a steady supply of blood sugar (Blood sugar, also known as glucose, is the only source of energy for the brain).  This process can result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in otherwise healthy people who have been drinking heavily and not eating properly for as little as 48 to 72 hours.  More long term consequences of chronic heavy drinking on the liver include: fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis and alcoholic cirrhosis.

Back to top


Should I be concerned about taking non-prescription medications while drinking?

Liver damage can occur as alcohol appears to activate certain enzymes which transform the non-prescription pain reliever acetaminophen (Tylenol TM and many others) into damaging chemicals even in standard therapeutic doses. This damage is more likely to occur when acetaminophen is taken after, rather than before, the alcohol has been metabolized. Taking over the counter allergy or cold and flu medications with alcohol can have harmful side effects as well. They often increase drowsiness and dizziness which can put you at a greater risk for harm, especially when driving a vehicle. Alcohol can also affect the metabolism of a wide variety of other medications, increasing the activity of some and decreasing the effectiveness of others. 

Back to top

Why do I feel so warm when I drink?

Alcohol is a vasodilator which means it causes the vessels near the surface of your skin to expand. This gives the sensation of warmth and flushness to the skin. In reality however, heat is being lost and your core body temperature is falling. Some individuals have a genetic makeup (seen in the Asian populations) to convert alcohol less rapidly than others resulting in a facial flush as they drink.  

Back to top

Why do I go to the bathroom so much when I’ve been drinking?

The posterior portion of the pituitary gland (at the base of the brain) secretes the hormone ADH (antidiuretic hormone).  This hormone regulates the amount of water the kidneys excrete and controls the concentration of the urine.  When affected by alcohol the pituitary gland functioning is depressed creating too little ADH.  This decrease in ADH results in the kidneys producing a larger than normal amount of dilute urine. This promotion of water loss causes dehydration, and is ultimately what can cause a headache the next day.

Back to top

Why do I get a hangover the next day?

A hangover is caused by a number of different factors. These factors include:

  • Alcohol withdrawal (yes, you can go through withdrawal after only one night of heavy drinking)
  • Fatigue from alcohol-induced sleep which is usually of a poorer quality (you don’t get REM sleep) and in shorter duration
  • Dehydration from the large amounts of urine produced
  • Congeners - other chemical compounds that add to the taste and appearance of alcoholic beverages
  • Certain enzymes used by our body to metabolize alcohol may contribute to a hangover due to its toxic effects.

Back to top

What are the effects of alcohol at certain Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) levels? 

  • 0.02 — 0.03 BAC: No loss of coordination, slight euphoria and loss of shyness. Depressant effects are not apparent. Mildly relaxed and maybe a little lightheaded.
  • 0.04 — 0.06 BAC: Feeling of well-being, relaxation, lower inhibitions, sensation of warmth. Euphoria. Some minor impairment of reasoning and memory, lowering of caution. Your behavior may become exaggerated and emotions intensified (Good emotions are better, bad emotions are worse) 
  • 0.07 — 0.09 BAC: Slight impairment of balance, speech, vision, reaction time, and hearing. Euphoria. Judgment and self-control are reduced, and caution, reason and memory are impaired (in some* states .08 is legally impaired and it is illegal to drive at this level). You will probably believe that you are functioning better than you really are. 
  • 0.10 — 0.125 BAC: Significant impairment of motor coordination and loss of good judgment. Speech may be slurred; balance, vision, reaction time and hearing will be impaired. Euphoria. It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle at this level of intoxication in all states. 
  • 0.13 — 0.15 BAC: Gross motor impairment and lack of physical control. Blurred vision and major loss of balance. Euphoria is reduced and dysphoria* is beginning to appear. Judgment and perception are severely impaired.
    ( * —Dysphoria: An emotional state of anxiety, depression, or unease.) 
  • 0.16 — 0.19 BAC: Dysphoria predominates, nausea may appear. The drinker has the appearance of a "sloppy drunk." 
  • 0.20 BAC: Feeling dazed/confused or otherwise disoriented. May need help to stand/walk. If you injure yourself you may not feel the pain. Some people have nausea and vomiting at this level. The gag reflex is impaired and you can choke if you do vomit. Blackouts are likely at this level so you may not remember what has happened. 
  • 0.25 BAC: All mental, physical and sensory functions are severely impaired. Increased risk of asphyxiation from choking on vomit and of seriously injuring yourself by falls or other accidents.
  • 0.30 BAC: STUPOR. You have little comprehension of where you are. You may pass out suddenly and be difficult to awaken. 
  • 0.35 BAC: Coma is possible. This is the level of surgical anesthesia. 
  • 0.40 BAC and up: Onset of coma, and possible death due to respiratory arrest.              

    Learn more about BAC...

Back to top

Why do I do things when I’ve been drinking that I wouldn’t normally do when I’m sober? 

Alcohol is a depressant.  It releases parts of the brain from their normal inhibitory restraints, allowing behavior that is normally censured to occur.  Examples of these can include; getting carried away, drinking more than planned, unplanned or unprotected sex, vandalism, and general poor judgment.

Interactive Brain - For a more in depth look at how alcohol affects your brain.

Interactive Body - For a more interactive experience of how alcohol affects your body.

Back to top

What else is there to do on campus besides party?

Lots! There are many student organizations on campus that support non drinkers.

Back to top

Have questions or want to talk?

If you have questions about any of the material on this page or concerns about your own or someone else’s use of alcohol, please call  (603) 862-3823 to speak with an Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Educator/Counselor. All visits are confidential and covered by the Health Fee.

Back to top