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A Glossary of Common Underage Drinking Terms: Do You Know the Meaning of…? 

June 19, 2015  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

Alcohol is the most common drug used by teens. In 2013, 66.2% of US high school students reported trying alcohol, 34.9% reported alcohol use in the past 30 days, and 20.8% reported recent binge drinking. These figures are consistent with survey information from Falmouth High School

Underage drinking has significant health and safety risks, including:

  • Causes many deaths and injuries
  • Can lead to poor decisions about engaging in risky behavior, such as drinking and driving or unprotected sex
  • Increases the risk of physical and sexual assault
  • Can lead to other problems, such as trouble in school
  • May interfere with brain development

And, it is against the law!

If you read about underage drinking, including the Risky Business column, local newspapers, and your favorite online resources and apps, you will notice a lot of jargon and terminology related to the issue. Listed below are some common terms about youth and alcohol consumption and a brief description of what they mean. 

Alcohol Abuse: Drinking in a way that can harm your a life. Symptoms may include drinking that leads to a failure to fulfill responsibilities at home, in school, or at work, and continued use despite negative consequences

Alcohol Use Disorder (Alcoholism): A disease marked by a strong craving for alcohol; an inability to control or limit drinking; and, physical dependence, which can lead to withdrawal symptoms after a heavy drinking episode; and tolerance, which results in needing to drink greater amounts of alcohol to feel its effects.

Alcohol Dependence: A need for repeated doses of alcohol to feel good or to avoid feeling bad. 

Alcohol Overdose (Alcohol Poisoning): An overdose is an excessive dose of a drug capable of producing dangerous side effects. With alcohol, toxic side effects can include nausea, vomiting, and death due to suppression of vital reflexes (such as breathing). Important warning signs that someone has overdosed on alcohol include difficulty awakening a person who has been drinking, pale or clammy skin, and slow or irregular breathing. Vomiting while passed out without awakening is If someone has any signs of an alcohol overdose immediate medical attention should be sought.

Binge Drinking: Binge drinking is the most common pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks, and when women consume 4 or more drinks, in about 2 hours.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC): A measurement of how much alcohol is in a person's bloodstream.

Breathalyzer: A device for estimating blood alcohol content (BAC) from a breath sample.

Denial: The refusal to admit to one's self the truth or reality, for example, a person who refuses to admit that they have a problem with alcohol or drugs.

Drinking Games: Competitive games, including beer pong, quarters, and cups, that involve drinking alcohol, typically resulting in the consumption of a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time.

DUI (Driving Under the Influence): A traffic violation for operating a motor vehicle while being alcohol or drug-impaired. In Massachusetts DUI is known as OUI (Operating Under the Influence) and is usually determined using a breathalyzer to measure your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to determine whether you're legally driving under the influence - if you are 21 years or older and register a BAC of .08 or greater, or if you are under 21 and register a BAC or .02 or greater.

Family History: The frequency of a medical condition in a person's family. If you have a relative with an alcohol use disorder you have a family history of alcoholism. Youngsters and teens with a such family history are at higher risk for underage drinking.

Gateway Drug: A substance that precedes use of other, often more dangerous substances. For example, alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana are sometimes described as a gateway drug for prescription painkillers, heroin, cocaine, meth-amphetamine, and other illicit drugs.

High-Risk Drinking: Drinking in a way that increases your risk for negative consequences, including lower grades, problems at work, trouble with campus or local law enforcement, and physical injury. Statistics show that people who consume four (women) or five (men) drinks in a sitting (binge drinking) at least once in a two-week period are at greater risk for these consequences than those who do not drink this way.

Intoxication: A state of severe impairment due to alcohol or drugs. The amount of alcohol needed to cause intoxication varies from person to person, but could be as little as a single drink for some people.

Legal Drinking Age: The age below which people are prohibited by law from purchasing alcohol. Throughout the U.S. the legal drinking age is 21.

Light Beer: Beer containing fewer calories than regular beer. Light beer may have the same amount of alcohol as regular beer.

Motor Impairment: Problems related to movement and coordination. Even a single drink could cause motor impairment large enough to interfere with your ability to safely drive a car.

Non-Drinker: Someone who refrains from drinking alcohol. Surveys from Falmouth High School indicate that about 60% of students do not drink.

Peer Pressure: Social pressure exerted by your friends or a peer group that influences you to behave In a certain way, usually by conforming to the group's actions or preferences.

Rehabilitation (Rehab):  The process by which someone with a substance use disorder achieves an improved state of health, psychological functioning, and social well-being. Rehabilitation usually follows medical stabilization (detox) and initial medical and psychiatric treatment. Rehab may include group therapy, behavior therapies to prevent a relapse, involvement with a support group, residence in a therapeutic community (rehabilitation facility) or half-way house, job training, work experience, and development of social skills.

Risk Factors: A biological, psychological or environmental influence that can increase one’s chance of having a disease such as an alcohol use disorder. Examples include inheriting genes associated with addiction or a family history of alcohol use, exposure to physical or sexual abuse or other trauma, and co-occurring mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

Shot: A shot is a measure of 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (40% alcohol).

Social Host Liability & Law: In most states social hosts who serve alcoholic beverages can be held liable if guests are harmed or cause harm to others after drinking. Those who face liability include the person who physically furnished alcohol, but also anyone who organized, hosted, or supported the event at which alcohol was served. The legal drinking age in Massachusetts is 21. It is against the law to serve or provide alcohol to underage guests or to allow them to drink alcohol in your home or on other property you control. The penalty is a fine up to $2,000, imprisonment for up to a year or both. If you provide alcohol to an underage youth and they are involved in a DUI accident, you could be held legally and financially responsible. 

Standard Drink: One 12 oz. beer containing 5% alcohol, one 5 oz. glass of wine containing 12% alcohol, one 12 oz. wine cooler containing 5% alcohol, or one 1.5 oz. shot of distilled spirits containing 40% (80 proof) alcohol.

Substance Use Disorder (Substance Abuse): A pattern of frequent use of a substance (such as alcohol or prescription painkillers) that leads to significant impairment or personal distress, a failure to fulfill important obligations, use in physically hazardous situations, related legal problems, and social and relationship problems.

Underage Drinking: Any alcohol consumption by anyone younger than 21 years old and therefore not of legal drinking age.

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