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Glossary - AlcoholEdu for College

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absorption: The movement of a substance – such as alcohol – into the body. Alcohol absorption can be slowed by eating before or during alcohol consumption.

abstinence: Non-use of alcohol and other drugs. Persons who should abstain from alcohol include those under age 21, pregnant and nursing women, those taking certain medications, and those with a history of alcohol or other drug problems.1

acquaintance rape: Rape committed by a person the victim knows. See date rape.

addiction: A physiological and/or psychological need for a drug which can lead a person to experience tolerance and withdrawal effects.

alcohol abuse: Drinking in a way that harms a person’s life. Symptoms include drinking that leads to a failure to fulfill obligations at home, in school, or at work and continued use despite negative consequences.

alcohol addiction: A physiological and/or psychological need for alcohol. Common symptoms include a craving for alcohol, continued use despite negative consequences, and physical symptoms, including tolerance and withdrawal.

alcohol concentration: The percentage of alcohol in a drink.

alcohol dependence: A physiological and/or psychological addition to alcohol. See alcoholism.

alcoholic: A person who has alcoholism, a disease marked by loss of control of drinking, physical dependence on alcohol, tolerance for the effects of alcohol, and cravings for alcohol. See alcoholism, alcohol addiction, alcohol dependence.

alcoholism: A disease marked by a strong craving for alcohol; an inability to control or limit drinking; 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.2

antibiotic: A drug used to treat bacterial infections.


binge drinking: A pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to .08% or higher.3 Some researchers define binge drinking for a man as having five or more drinks on a single occasion, and for a woman as having four or more drinks; other researchers use the term “heavy drinking” to describe that level of alcohol consumption.4

blackout: A period of total memory loss. Blackouts from drinking alcohol can occur at BAC levels in the range of 0.10-0.15%. A blackout is more likely to be experienced when a person drinks too much alcohol too quickly. Women are more likely to experience blackouts than men.

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

breathalyzer: A device that calculates blood alcohol concentration based upon small amounts of alcohol in a person’s breath.

brownout: A period of partial memory loss. An individual suffering a brownout may not initially remember an event, but when prompted to remember can eventually recall it. A brownout is less severe than a blackout.


cerebellum: The section of the brain that coordinates sensory input with muscular responses: Responsible for what we refer to as “coordination.”

chronic drinking: Repeated drinking over days, weeks, or even years.

chug: The act of consuming an alcoholic beverage very quickly, typically resulting in a large amount of alcohol being consumed in a short period of time.

cognitive processes: Mental processes of perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning.

consent: Words or overt actions that communicate a person’s willingness to participate in an activity. By law, a person who is alcohol – or drug – impaired is not considered to have given legal consent to sexual activity.

crunked: A slang term referring to the state of being excessively intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.


date rape: Rape committed by a person the victim is seeing socially. See acquaintance rape.

“date-rape” drug: A term used for a category of drugs that cause severe sedation and make a person vulnerable to sexual assault. These drugs are especially dangerous when combined with alcohol. See GHB, Rohypnol.

dehydration: Loss of water from the body. Alcohol suppresses the release of a hormone called anti-diuretic hormone, which causes the drinker to urinate more, thereby leading to dehydration.

depressant: A drug or other agent that slows the activity of the body’s vital organs. Depressants acting on the central nervous system include general anesthetics, opiates, hypnotics, and alcohol.

domestic violence: Behavior used to try to control or dominate a family member, partner, or ex-partner. Domestic violence can include physical violence, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, intimidation, economic deprivation, or threats of violence.

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.

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.

drug: A substance that affects the body and/or mind, causing changes in perceptions and behavior, sometimes leading to addiction. Includes certain prescription drugs, all illegal drugs, and alcohol.

DUI (Driving Under the Influence): A traffic violation for operating a motor vehicle while being alcohol or drug-impaired. See per se law, zero tolerance law.


enzyme: A substance that acts as a catalyst for biochemical reactions in living organisms.

ethanol: Ethanol is the only alcohol that should ever be consumed. Other alcohols, like methanol, are poisonous and can cause blindness or death.


family history: The incidence of a medical condition in a person’s family. A person who has a relative with alcoholism is said to have a family history of alcoholism.

FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act): Federal legislation that is designed to protect students’ privacy at school. The law does not forbid schools from informing parents when students are disciplined for drinking.

flushing: Redness of the skin, typically the cheeks, caused by increased blood flow to the skin.

frontal lobe: A part of the brain, located right behind the forehead, that is concerned with many components of intelligence, including planning, decision-making, and memory.


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

GHB (gamma hydroxybutyric acid): A synthetic drug commonly mixed with alcohol that causes drowsiness and dizziness in lower doses, but unconsciousness, seizures, respiratory depression, or coma in higher doses. GHB has been used in sexual assaults, as it reduces victim resistance and interferes with memory. Street names include “Liquid Ecstasy,” “Easy Lay,” and “Grievous Bodily Harm.”5


hangover: The morning-after consequences of a night of drinking. Symptoms include headache, dehydration, and nausea.

hard liquor: Alcoholic beverages that contain a high alcohol concentration (well over 50%) due to distillation. Excludes beer and wine.

high-risk drinking: Drinking in a way that increases 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 at least once in a two-week period are at greater risk for these consequences than those who do not drink this way.

hippocampus: A section of the brain that plays an important role in memory formation, including memories for facts and events.

hypothalamus: With the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus controls the release of body hormones that control body temperature, maintain blood pressure and the rate and force of the heartbeat, and control how much water the body retains.


intervention: The act of confronting a person with self-destructive habits to encourage them to seek help.

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 in some people.


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


marijuana: The most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. Marijuana contains the active chemical compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). See tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

metabolism (of alcohol): The processing of alcohol molecules carried out by enzymes created in the liver (See alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase). The liver removes alcohol from the bloodstream at a rate of about .015% BAC per hour.

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


nonalcoholic beer: A low-alcohol beer designed to taste like regular beer. Despite its name, contains a small amount of alcohol (upwards of 0.5%).

non-drinker: One who refrains from drinking alcohol.

nucleus accumbens: A region of the brain that is a critical part of the reward system. All commonly abused drugs, including alcohol, appear to influence activity in this brain region. See reward system.


overdose: An excessive dose of a drug capable of producing toxic side effects. With alcohol, toxic side effects can include nausea, vomiting, and death due to suppression of vital reflexes. 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 a certain sign of an alcohol overdose and immediate medical attention should be sought.


parental notification: A policy by which institutions of higher education inform parents of drug and alcohol policy violations committed by students under age 21. Not all schools employ parental notification, and those that do vary in the types of infractions that trigger the penalty.

peer pressure: Social pressure exerted by a peer group that influences a person to behave In a certain way, usually in conformity to the group’s actions or preferences.

per se law: A state law making it illegal for a driver age 21 and older to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher. A driver with a BAC this high is defined per se as being alcohol-impaired. This is the law in all 50 states.

“predatory” drugs: A category of drugs that cause severe sedation and make a person vulnerable to sexual assault. These drugs are especially dangerous when combined with alcohol. See “date-rape drugs,” GHB, and Rohypnol.

“pre-gaming:” Consuming alcohol prior to attending a social event, at which alcohol may or may not be available.

proof: A measure of alcohol concentration in a beverage. Proof is equivalent to twice the percentage of alcohol. For instance, 80 proof distilled spirits contain 40% alcohol.


rape: Forcible sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration with a body part or object, imposed upon a person against his or her will. A common form of sexual assault. See sexual assault.

reaction time: The time it takes a person to respond to a stimulus. Alcohol dramatically increases reaction time, making it very dangerous to operate a car while under the influence.

reward system: A group of brain regions involved in feelings of pleasure (“reward”). Alcohol and other drugs that increase activity in the reward system tend to produce feelings of pleasure. See nucleus accumbens.

Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam): A medication used in Latin America and Europe to treat insomnia or as a pre-anesthetic medication, but smuggled into the United States, where it is a drug of abuse. Use of the drug can create amnesia, plus drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion. Street names include “R-2,” “Mexican Valium,” and “roofies.” Rohypnol has been used in sexual assaults. A new version of the pill includes a dye that is visible when put into a drink.6


sedatives: Drugs that slow the central nervous system and create a euphoric state, often accompanied by slurred speech and loss of coordination. They reduce tension and induce relaxation, drowsiness, and sleep while decreasing alertness.

sexual assault: A violent crime involving sexual actions imposed upon a person against his/her will. Exact legal definitions vary by state. See also rape, date rape, acquaintance rape.

sexual harassment: Unwelcome verbal or physical conduct, sexual advances, or requests for sexual favors.

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

social host liability: In most states, either by state statute or case law, 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.7

stalking: Repeated unwanted attention, harassment, or any form of contact or action that makes another person afraid, including invading a person’s privacy.

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. See “drink.”

stimulant: A drug that alters mood, creates a sense of euphoria, and increases energy and alertness. Examples include nicotine, caffeine, and cocaine.

substance abuse: A pattern of frequent substance use that leads to significant impairment or personal distress, as marked by failure to fulfill important obligations, use in physically hazardous situations, substance-related legal problems, and recurring social and interpersonal problems.1

substance-free housing: Residential housing, typically on-campus, in which the use of any drugs, including alcohol, is forbidden.


temperature regulation: The ability of the body to adjust heat loss to maintain a constant body temperature. Sweating occurs to increase heat loss and cool the body, while shivering occurs to generate more heat and warm the body. Alcohol interferes with temperature regulation, which could cause the body to become either too hot or too cold, depending on the situation.

tolerance: Physiological adaptation to a drug, such that higher doses are required to produce the original effect.


underage: Younger than 21 years old and not of legal drinking age.


withdrawal: The physiological and psychological adjustment that accompanies discontinued use of a drug. Withdrawal from alcohol addition can include confusion, disorientation, agitation, and hallucinations.


zero tolerance law: A state law making it illegal for a driver under age 21 to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .02% or higher. In some states, the limit is set at .01% or higher or at any measurable level greater than .00%.



  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. NIAAA Council approves definition of binge drinking. NIAAA Newsletter. Winter 2004; No. 3: 3.
  2. Wechsler H, Dowdall GW, Davenport A, Rimm EB. (1995). A gender-specific measure of binge drinking among college students. American Journal of Public Health 85, 982-985.
  3. GHB (gamma hydroxybutyric acid). U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Retrieved June 16, 2008 from at http://www.dea.gov/concern/ghb_factsheet.html.
  4. Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam). U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Retrieved June 16, 2008 from http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/concern/flunitrazepam.html.
  5. DeJong W, Langenbahn S. (1996). Setting and Improving Policies for Reducing Alcohol and Other Drug Problems on Campus: A Guide for Administrators. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention.

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