Alcohol Content

The amount of alcohol a drink contains depends on many factors: the type of yeast used, the amount and type of sugar used, and the temperature during the process of fermentation. Different combinations produce different beverages, which contain different concentrations of alcohol. Of the three basic types of alcoholic drinks—beer, wine, and liquor— each has a different alcohol content.

In general, beer brewed in America contains 3 to 6 percent

During the fermentation process, yeast converts the sugar from grapes (in wine production) or from grains (in beer production) into alcohol. In the production of other alcoholic drinks like whiskey, the alcohol is concentrated through a process known as distillation.

alcohol. The basic American beer is made from malted barley and hops (ripened and dried cones from the hop plant). Brewers mix the malted barley with water and grains such as corn or rice. When this mixture is heated, starches in the grains convert into sugar and other carbohydrates. Brewers then remove the grains and boil the mixture with hops for flavor. Yeast is then added to start the fermentation process, changing the sugar into alcohol. Brewers generally age the beer for several weeks or months to improve its flavor.

The process of fermenting grapes and berries produces wine. Wine can be made from other fruits as well, including apples and pears. Wine may even be made from certain plants, such as dandelions. Winemakers affect the flavor of the wine by choosing certain grapes or fruits to use and deciding when to harvest them. Grapes or berries are removed from their stems and crushed. For white wine, the skins and pulp are separated from the juice; for red wine, the skins and seeds are fermented along with the juice. Yeast then converts the sugar in the grapes or fruit into alcohol.

Temperature affects the rate at which fermentation takes place. Red wines are generally fermented at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time than that for white wines. The wine is then aged in barrels or stainless-steel tanks. Wine varies in its alcohol content, generally containing about 10 percent alcohol. Some wines, including sherry and port wines, are described as "fortified" to indicate that ethanol has been added. These wines have an even higher alcohol content.

Alcoholic beverages other than wine may contain a higher alcohol content than wine. Whiskey, for example, is made from grain (generally corn), which then undergoes a distillation process to increase the amount of alcohol it contains. The fermented mixture of grain (sometimes called mash) is heated in a closed container. The ethanol boils up as steam. It then is separated, cooled, and re-liquefied.

Alcoholic beverages containing this type of purer ethyl alcohol are generally described as distilled. Their alcoholic content ranges from 40 to 50 percent.

How can you tell how much alcohol a drink contains? Some beers and wines list the alcohol content directly on their label. Other types of alcoholic beverages use the word "proof" on their labels. To find out the alcoholic content of these beverages, divide the proof in half. For example, a vodka or whiskey that claims to be "80 proof" contains 40 percent alcohol.

Even though alcoholic beverages contain different amounts of alcohol, this does not mean that one is more dangerous or addictive than another. Distilled spirits are not somehow "worse" than beer or wine. You can become addicted to alcohol no matter how it is packaged.


Many people drink because alcohol makes them feel relaxed or happy. But alcohol is not a stimulant. It is a depressant, and it has a depressant effect on the brain's functioning. Consumption of alcohol can injure brain tissue and interfere with the parts of the brain that control memories, emotions, and thinking.

Your nervous system consists of a mixture of signals — some that excite or stimulate responses, and others that inhibit responses. Many of these signals happen without your awareness. But alcohol affects this complex balance of signals. Because alcohol is a depressant, it depresses specific parts of the brain, including those mechanisms that would normally inhibit certain responses. This is why alcohol can create the false impression of being a stimulant. But it is important to remember that alcohol is not stimulating a certain response — making you feel more outgoing or affectionate, for example. Instead, it is depressing certain parts of your brain that would normally inhibit those responses. It prevents them from their performing their normal functions.

When we think about alcohol's effects, we often think about what comes after too much alcohol—things like headaches, nausea, and a hangover the next day. But there are serious and specific ways in which alcohol affects the body as it is consumed, traveling from the stomach to the small intestine into the bloodstream and on to the brain, heart, and liver. Alcohol can damage different organs in the body and has been linked to heart disease, cancer, and the development of mental retardation and physical problems in newborns whose mothers drank while pregnant.

Alcohol affects your body, even in small doses. Small amounts cause your stomach to secrete gastric juices. Small

Josh likes to spike his orange juice with alcohol before he leaves for school in the morning. He isn't too picky about what he mixes in it. He just takes one of the bottles his father keeps in the kitchen cabinet, pours a little into a glass, and then adds some juice. Josh feels lonely at home and bored at school. If he has something to drink, those feelings slip away. He likes the relaxed, mellow feeling it gives him. When he comes home from school, he drinks more—either more alcohol mixed in a glass of Coke or a beer from the cans kept in the refrigerator.

Josh's dad doesn't notice his drinking. He leaves for work before Josh wakes up and isn't home until late in the evening. Josh carefully refills the bottles with water and crushes any beer cans into flat pancakes, then buries them deep in the garbage can.

I Josh may not have the straight facts about the acute and chronic health effects that his pattern of alcohol use is inviting.

amounts cause your heart to beat faster and your blood pressure to rise. Alcohol causes the blood vessels within your muscles to constrict and those at the surface to expand, causing your skin to rapidly lose heat. This is what makes your skin appear redder or more flushed after you have had something to drink.

Alcohol affects your endocrine system — the glands that produce hormones. It causes you to urinate more, possibly causing dehydration. It stops the release of the hormone ADH (anti-diuretic hormone), the hormone that controls how much water the kidneys reabsorb and how much they excrete.

Alcohol affects various parts of the brain. One or two drinks affect the surface of the brain, whereas more can impair reasoning, control, and even the medulla's ability to regulate such involuntary responses as your heartbeat and your breathing. More drinks affect the cerebellum, impairing your ability to keep your balance.

Alcohol travels rapidly through your body, affecting— and impairing—its operation in many ways.

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