PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Alcohol: The Basics

There's a lot of information about alcohol out there, and it can be really confusing. But here's an easy way to look at the big questions and answers:

What is alcohol?
The simple answer: Alcohol is a drug.
The longer answer: Alcohol is a drug made when yeast (that stuff that makes bread rise) meets sugar (found in fruit or grains).

  • Yeast plus grapes equals wine
  • Yeast plus barley (a grain) equals beer
  • Yeast plus just about any plant containing sugar equals liquor (whiskey, vodka, rum, etc.)

What does alcohol do?
The simple answer: Alcohol makes you drunk.
The longer answer: Alcohol, like any other drug, has lots of effects on the brain and body. One of the most obvious effects of alcohol is called "intoxication," which is a fancy word for "being drunk." When you are intoxicated:

  • Your brain feels foggy
  • You think and see differently
  • You can be slow and clumsy
  • You may react to things slower
  • You may be unable to control your emotions

How much alcohol is in a drink?

  • Beer usually contains about 4% to 8% alcohol
  • Wine usually contains about 10% to 22% alcohol
  • Liquor (whiskey, rum, vodka, gin, etc.) contains about 40% to 55% alcohol
...but remember:
  • One beer is typically 12 ounces
  • One glass of wine is about 5 ounces
  • One serving or "shot" of liquor is 1.5 ounces

...this means:
One beer, one glass of wine, and one shot of liquor all contain the SAME AMOUNT OF ALCOHOL. To put it another way:

1 beer = 1 glass of wine = 1 shot of liquor

How much does it take to get drunk?
This answer is different for everyone, because a lot of different factors are involved, like how much you weigh, how much you've had to drink in the past, and your gender. But most average-sized adults will feel slightly drunk after only 1 drink, and feel very drunk after 3 or more drinks. Kids and teens, because they are smaller and have less experience drinking, can feel very drunk after only one or two drinks!

What does the law say about alcohol?
Laws about selling and drinking alcohol are different from state to state and country to country, but there is one law that applies to everyone in the United States: It is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to buy or drink alcohol. As you probably know, there are also laws about "driving while intoxicated" or "driving while under the influence," which are meant to keep drunk drivers -- people who've had enough alcohol that it hurts their ability to drive -- off the roads. It's also against the law for an adult to serve or buy alcohol for someone who's under the legal age.

Does this mean that if your dad lets you try his beer one night, he could be arrested? Or if you have a sip of wine as part of a religious holiday, the police will come rushing in? No...but it's important that everyone in your family is aware of the laws and knows where to draw the line.

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