Teen-agers have misconceptions on alcohol products


December 29, 1992|By Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe | Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe,Contributing Writers

Q: My son and I are having a dispute about something he learned in his high school science class. He says beer contains as much alcohol as a mixed drink. I say beer has less. Who's right?

A: It sounds like your son has learned his lessons well. A 12-ounce can of beer, 6 ounces of table wine (white or red) and a mixed drink (which usually contains 1.5 ounces of liquor) all contain the same amount of alcohol.

Many people, including teens, erroneously believe beer is milder than drinks made with "hard liquor." But drinking 12 cans of beer is the same as consuming 16 ounces or two-thirds of a fifth of 80-proof whiskey.

Alcohol comes in so many varieties and packages it's often hard to keep track of the quantity in each type. In a recent survey, two out of three students were unable to distinguish between various kinds of alcoholic drinks and mineral water. In this same survey students indicated beer and malt liquor contain more alcohol than fortified wines when, in fact, fortified wine has up to five times as much alcohol as the other two. Unclear labeling and similar packaging often make it difficult to distinguish between a wine cooler, fruit-flavored fortified wines and flavored mineral waters.

Misconceptions abound about alcohol's intoxicating effects as well. In another student survey, one-third thought that drinking coffee, taking a cold shower or going out in fresh air could sober up an intoxicated friend. Given the significant problems associated with underage drinking, it's important for all of us -- parent and teen-ager alike -- to become more knowledgeable about alcohol and its effects.

Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

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