Overview

Alcohol is a drug that is legal in most countries. The age at which the use/sale of alcohol becomes legal depends on the culture and country. People may drink alcohol for many reasons. Explore this section to find out more about alcohol and the term binge drinking.

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Factsheet

Provided by Reach Out

We have partnered with Reach Out to bring you the best factsheet information we can on this topic. Reach Out offers information, support and resources to help young people improve their understanding of mental health issues, develop resilience, and increase their coping skills and help-seeking behaviour.

Effects of Alcohol

This factsheet provides information about the effects of alcohol

Why people drink alcohol

effects of alcoholAlcohol is a drug that is legal in most countries. The age at which the use/sale of alcohol becomes legal depends on the culture and country. People may drink alcohol for many reasons, including to:

  • Experiment
  • Socialise with friends
  • Have fun or celebrate
  • Relieve boredom
  • Relax
  • Forget worries or problems

Experimentation + alcohol

It is not uncommon for young people to experiment with alcohol. Experimentation does not necessarily lead to problem use. However the younger a person is when they start drinking alcohol, the more harm they will potentially do to themselves. Alcohol is a toxin, and even when consumed in small amounts, it can be harmful to the still-developing brain and body of a young person.

If you are concerned about your own or someone's alcohol use it may be helpful to speak with The Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS). ADIS specialise in drug and alcohol issues.  Contact numbers for each state can be found in the ‘Alcohol information services’ section below. It may also be helpful to calmly talk with the person you are concerned about. Engaging them in a confrontational way may only alienate them.

The effects of alcohol

Like other drugs the effects of alcohol may vary from person to person. Some of the factors that may influence how an individual may be affected by alcohol include:

  • How much they have had to drink
  • How quickly they have drunk the alcohol
  • Whether they have mixed other drugs
  • How regularly they drink
  • Their mood when they are drinking
  • Their age, sex and body weight
  • Their general health and nutrition
  • Whether they have been eating as well as drinking
  • If they have been binge drinking.

Binge drinking means drinking heavily over a short period of time or drinking constantly over a number of days or weeks. Alcohol is a depressant drug meaning it slows the time it takes to respond to things. Alcohol has the ability to affect your co-ordination and judgment. When drunk in small amounts it may make you feel more relaxed, however, taken in larger amounts it may cause you to vomit or pass out.

Some of the other more immediate effects of alcohol may include:

  • Feeling more confident
  • Feeling sleepy
  • Losing balance or feeling dizzy

Short-term effects of drinking too much alcohol

effects of alcohol the hangoverIf you drink to excess you’re likely to experience a number of physical effects, including:

  • Hangovers
  • Nausea
  • Shakiness
  • Vomiting and memory loss
  • Injury to yourself
  • Alcohol poisoning

Alcohol is a major cause of injury and death among young people. When you’re drunk, you’re more likely to put yourself in risky situations, like getting into a car with a driver who has been drinking, or being the perpetrator or victim of violence. Some facts about alcohol:

  • On average one in four hospitalisations of 15 -25 year olds happen because of alcohol
  • 70 Australians aged under 25 will be hospitalised due to alcohol-caused assault in an average week
  • Four Australians aged under 25 die due to alcohol related injuries in an average week

Long-term effects of regular alcohol use

Continuous heavy drinking over a long period of time can lead to:

  • Physical and psychological dependence on alcohol
  • Significant damage to the brain and liver
  • Risk of cancer of the mouth, throat or oesophagus
  • Possible increased risk of neurological disorders, heart problems, and sexual problems (especially male impotency)
  • Emotional and mental health problems developing, such as depression and anxiety
  • Problems at school, work and with relationships

Other possible effects of alcohol use

In addition to the health risks, drinking may also impact your self esteem and social life because you may find yourself doing things when you’re drunk that you wouldn’t normally do if you were sober. In fact, one in two Australians aged 15 – 17 who get drunk will do something they regret. Being drunk affects your judgment and may lead to you:

  • Having unprotected sex, or unwanted sex. This might lead to unwanted pregnancy, or STIs
  • Feeling bad about yourself and embarrassed by your actions
  • Losing friends or loved ones as a result of your behaviour
  • Losing money that you need for other things after reckless spending on alcohol

Drinking alcohol increases the likelihood of acting in a violent way. Violence is not OK and if you are becoming violent when you drink it may be a good idea to look at how you can manage your alcohol use.

Mixing drinks or alcohol with other drugs

Mixing different alcoholic drinks may increase the speed in which you become drunk and may mean you take more risks.

Mixing alcohol with stimulants can be dangerous. The effects of alcohol may be hidden by the effects of the stimulant which may cause you to feel less drunk than you are. This may mean you take more risks, and put yourself in danger. For more information about what stimulants are check our other drugs section.

Mixing alcohol with other depressant drugs like cannabis may be dangerous as both cause your body reactions to slow down and increase the likelihood of passing out or overdosing. Check out our other drugs section for more information about depressants.

Alcohol + pregnancy

It is recommended that when you are pregnant or breastfeeding that you don't drink alcohol. Drinking alcohol may not be safe for your baby. Your doctor can give you more information about pregnancy and the effects of alcohol also check out this blog featured here on TINO about alcohol and pregnancy.

Alcohol consumption + driving or operating machinery

Alcohol may increase your confidence and reduce your judgement, concentration and reaction time. Drink driving laws in Australia vary from state to state. The transport authority in your state should be able to let you know the legal limits.
You should avoid driving or operating heavy machinery when you have been drinking alcohol. It may be difficult to judge how much alcohol puts you at or over the legal limit. If you plan to drink, try to make other arrangements for getting home. You may catch a taxi, designate a non-drinking driver or arrange to stay overnight.

What is a standard drinks

A standard drink has 10 grams of pure alcohol. Knowing how many standard drinks you are having may help you in managing your alcohol use. Different types of alcoholic drinks contain different amounts of pure alcohol. The following are examples of standard drinks :

  • 285ml glass of beer(a middy/pot/handle)
  • 100ml glass of table wine
  • 30ml of spirits (1 nip)

For a helpful guide that shows how many standard drinks are in a variety of common alcoholic beverages, visit the frequently asked questions page on the NHMRC website. It may be helpful to remember that alcohol is not always served as standard drinks. This is particularly the case if you are offered a drink at a party, where a full glass is often well in excess of a ‘standard’ drink.

Low risk drinking

If you’re drinking alcohol it is a good idea to know its effects and how to use it responsibly. Some things you may consider to help make alcohol use safer include:

  • Do not mix alcohol and other drugs
  • Eat food prior to and while drinking alcohol
  • Finish each drink, don't top it up, so that you know how much you have had
  • Know your limits - what may be OK for others may not be OK for you
  • Between alcoholic drinks have a non alcoholic drink
  • Do not drink and drive or operate heavy machinery
  • Stay with people you know and trust
  • Don't drink and go swimming
  • Carry condoms - The effects of alcohol may make you more relaxed and confident which may increase the likelihood of having sex. If you are having sex, use a condom to avoid contacting HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted infections.

Is your drinking becoming a problem?

It is not uncommon to drink alcohol occasionally however you may have a problem with your alcohol use if you are:

  • Neglecting studies/work tasks
  • Getting into hassles at school/work/home
  • Feeling hung over in the mornings
  • Thinking about drinking a lot during the day
  • Feeling edgy
  • Drinking more alcohol than intended
  • Finding that you need to drink more to get the same effect.

It may be helpful to make a list of all the 'good' and 'less great' things about drinking and to work out how much money you are spending on alcohol each week. If you are not happy with the result you might need to manage your alcohol intake better. Check out the section below for suggestions for doing this. It may also be useful to check out the video above titled helping a friend or family member with a drinking problem.

Managing alcohol intake

Managing your alcohol use may be difficult. If you reduce your alcohol use you may still crave for it for sometime afterwards. Try not to be too hard on yourself if you don't reach your immediate goal. Having to try several times may be part of reducing your use and it is important you keep trying.

It may be helpful to have someone you can talk to. This may be a friend, a family member, doctor or a counsellor. To find a doctor or mental health professional see the beyondblue Directory of Medical and Allied Health Practitioners. You may also want to ask friends or your local doctor if they can recommend anyone.

 

Binge Drinking

effects of alcohol and binge drinkingAlcohol is the most widely used recreational drug in Australia. We have a culture of socially accepting the drinking of alcohol, with many Australians drinking after work, at barbeques, on the weekend, and at sporting events - just to name a few.

What is binge drinking?

Binge drinking is drinking heavily on a single occasion, or drinking continuously over a number of days or weeks. It is also commonly known as 'getting smashed', or 'drinking to get drunk'4.

A person who binge drinks may usually have restrained drinking habits, but may frequently overindulge to an extreme level. Alternatively, someone may not necessarily set out to drink a lot, but may be unsure of their limits, resulting in drinking too much over a short period of time. You may also be more likely to binge drink if you are feeling peer pressure to do so. Or, you may be feeling anxious or socially awkward, for example at a party, and you may binge drink with the aim to reduce those feelings.

Is binge drinking harmful?

Binge drinking can be immediately and directly harmful to your health. It can expose you to injury or to unnecessary risks to yourself and others. As well as having adverse short-term effects, binge drinking can also cause long-term effects on your health and well-being. See the section above for information on the short and long term effects of binge drinking.

How much can you drink?

We all respond to alcohol differently, and it is important that you know your own limits, and understand how alcohol affects you as an individual. How alcohol affects you may be influenced by a number of factors, such as:

  • how much alcohol you drink
  • how quickly you drink it
  • whether you consume the alcohol with other drugs
  • whether you're male or female
  • your mood
  • your body type
  • whether or not you've eaten.

If you have not drunken alcohol before, it may be difficult for you to know what your limits are. The first time you drink alcohol, it may be a good idea to try drinking in a safe area, where someone can help you if you drink too much. This might be at home, or at a friends place.

Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol

In 2009, the National Health and  Medical Research Council (NHMRC) published the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. The Guidelines are based on extensive research and are set out below.

Guideline 1 - Reducing the risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime

  • The lifetime risk of harm from drinking alcohol increases with the amount consumed.
  • For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.

Guideline 2 - Reducing the risk of injury on a single occasion of drinking

  • On a single occasion of drinking, the risk of alcohol-related injury increases with the amount consumed.
  • For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.

Guideline 3 - Children and young people under 18 years of age

  • For children and young people under 18 years of age, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.
  • a) Children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking and that for this age group, not drinking alcohol is especially important.
  • b) For young people aged 15−17 years, the safest option is to delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible.

The reason for this is that alcohol can affect brain development and lead to alcohol-related problems in later life.

Guideline 4 - If you're pregnant or breastfeeding

  • Maternal alcohol consumption can harm the developing fetus or breastfeeding baby.
  • a) For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option.
  • b) For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.

Check out the guidelines for more detailed info.

Tips for controlling your drinking

There are a number of things you can do to keep your drinking under control, including:

  • set limits for yourself and stick to them
  • start with a non-alcoholic drink
  • try having a 'spacer' - alternating non-alcoholic drinks with alcoholic drinks
  • drink slowly - take sips not gulps
  • try a low alcohol alternative to a pre-mixed drink
  • eat before or while you are drinking, avoid salty snacks, they make you thirsty
  • avoid rounds or 'shouts'
  • have one drink at a time, so you can keep track
  • avoid sculling competitions, and drinking games
  • stay busy - don't just sit and drink
  • be assertive - don't be pressured into drinking more than you want or intend to.

Managing alcohol intake

Managing your alcohol use may be difficult. If you reduce your alcohol use you may still crave for it for sometime afterwards. Try not to be too hard on yourself if you don't reach your immediate goal. Having to try several times may be part of reducing your use and it is important you keep trying. It may be helpful to have someone you can talk to. This may be a friend, a family member, doctor or a counsellor.

Check out Reach Out's  Who can help you section of the site to find more about help available for you.

Phone numbers within Australia

NSW Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) – (02) 9361 8000 or 1800 422 599 in rural and regional NSW.
Directline (Victorian Based) – or 1800 888 236
SA ADIS – (08) 8363 8618 (interstate) or 1300 131 340 (within SA)
WA ADIS – (08) 9442 5000 or 1800 198 024
QLD ADIS – (07) 3837 5989 or 1800 177 833
Tasmanian ADIS – (03) 9416 1818 or 1800 811 994
NT ADIS – 1800 684 372 or Alice Springs (08) 8951 7580 or Darwin (08) 8922 8399
NT Amity House – (08) 8944 6565 or 1800 684 372
ACT ADIS – (02) 6205 4545

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Ted Noffs Foundation for editing this factsheet.

References:

  1. Chikritzhs, T. and Pascal, R. (2004). Trends in Youth Alcohol Consumption and Related Harms in Australian Jurisdictions, 1990–2002. Bulletin No. 6. National Drug Research Institute.
  2. National Drug Research Institute (2008). 2004-05 Hospitalisation and morbidity data for Australians aged 0 to 24. Unpublished raw data.
  3. Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing (2008).  National Youth Alcohol Campaign evaluation research 2000-2002. Unpublished raw data.
  4. DrugInfo Clearinghouse, ‘Binge Drinking’ Fact Sheet Number 1.10, revised June 2009.
  5. Chikritzhs, T. and Pascal, R. (2004). Trends in Youth Alcohol Consumption and Related Harms in Australian Jurisdictions, 1990–2002. Bulletin No. 6. National Drug Research Institute.
  6. National Drug Research Institute (2008). 2004-05 Hospitalisation and morbidity data for Australians aged 0 to 24. Unpublished raw data.
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5 Responses to “Alcohol”

  1. Emo says:

    ^^^ was totally right

  2. Marty says:

    Thanks for this website…I am a homeschooling mother, and my son, Nathaniel, says he loves the information you have presented on the subject of drinking. I am glad that he is getting sound information, and that he now knows the consequences that come out of drinking.

  3. belinda says:

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  4. david says:

    as a person who as being plagued by drink issues I found only thing that works for me is aa don’t think it works for everyone

  5. kylo says:

    i think should have info about the effects of alcohol on the people around you.

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