One of the most widely accessible drugs, alcohol misuse can have harmful effects. Learn more facts here.

What is Alcohol?

Alcohol is a drug that acts as a depressant, meaning that it slows down the messages that are travelling in a person’s brain to the rest of their body. Because alcohol is slowing down the messages travelling in a person’s body, it can affect and impair their judgement, coordination and sight. This can result in a reduced ability to respond to unexpected situations and higher chances of accidents and/or assaults?

Booze, grog, piss, liquor, goon, drink


How do you know alcohol use is becoming a problem?

For some people alcohol can be used in social and recreational situations which can minimise the belief that it is not a drug, but like other drugs, alcohol can be both physically and emotionally addictive. There are varying degrees of alcohol dependence, and they are not always linked to excessive amounts of alcohol that may be drunk.

It may be that a person begins to have the urge to share a drink during every evening meal, going to the pub with work mates at the end of every shift, feeling it’s acceptable to have a weekend bender (binge drink) or feeling the need to drink as the only way to unwind and relax. These situations represent levels of alcohol use that can result in negative physical and emotional affects to a person and their long-term health. Warning signs that a person is experiencing dependency on alcohol include:

  • Urges to drink alcohol so strong it overtakes a person’s thinking
  • Planning social, family and work events around alcohol
  • Drinking alcohol as soon as you wake up or experiencing the urge to drink when you wake up
  • Finding it difficult to stop drinking once you have started
  • Experiencing cravings and withdrawal (see below)

How do you know when alcohol use is becoming a problem?

Although drinking alcohol can initially make a person feel good and excited, it can have serious effects on a person’s mood, behaviour and physical well-being and mental health. These effects can vary significantly from person to person depending on the amount of alcohol that is drunk, how quickly it is drunk, a person’s overall physical health and body type and whether it is used with other drugs (e.g. cannabis, ecstasy).

The short-term effects of using alcohol include:

  • Feelings of relaxation
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Increased confidence
  • Feeling happier, sadder or more angry, depending on a person’s mood
  • Risky or inappropriate behaviour
  • Reduced coordination and sight
  • Slowed reaction times
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion and impaired judgement
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea or Vomiting

In situations where a large quantity of alcohol is drunk in a short-period of time the short-term effects can include:

  • Slower breathing and heart rate
  • Sensitivity to noise and light
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Passing out
  • Blackouts (temporary memory loss)
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Coma (rare case)
  • Death (rare case)

Sobering up from the effects of alcohol and its presence in a person’s body takes time, with one standard drinking taking approximately one hour for the liver in a person’s body to metabolise. People often believe that engaging in behaviours such as consuming coffee, water, taking a cold shower, exercising to sweat, vomiting or getting fresh air will help to speed up the sobering process. While this may help to reduce the symptoms of alcohol, it does not remove the presence of alcohol from the bloodstream any faster.

Although alcohol is the most commonly used recreational drug in Australia, regular and excessive alcohol use can impact wellbeing, create psychological, social, financial, emotional and health-related problems, impede a person’s ability to be a caregiver and result in chronic an permanent organ damage. The Long term effects of using alcohol include:

  • Increased risk of diabetes and obesity
  • Increased psychological effects (i.e. anxiety and depression)
  • Organ damage (i.e. brain, heart, liver and reproductive organ damage)
  • Increased risk of infections
  • Malnutrition
  • Skin-related issues
  • Sleep-related issue (i.e. insomnia)
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Increased risk of varying forms of cancer (i.e. liver cancer)
  • Financial, social and work related problems
  • Serious birth defects if used during pregnancy

What to do in case of alcohol overdose or harmful use

If you are unable to wake someone up or you are worried that you or someone you know has sustained a head injury from an alcohol related fall - call an ambulance immediately – phone 000. Please seek medical attention immediately if you or your friends experience negative effects to alcohol, try not to panic or keep it to yourself. Phone 000 for an ambulance immediately and tell the operator that there has been an overdose. If you are calling about your own use, do not try to hide the fact that you have consumed alcohol – be completely honest about the amount consumed and whether other drugs were taken. Whilst waiting for emergency services, immediately inform a friend or family member who can support you during this time.

If you or someone you know is experiencing alcohol overdose

If you are calling for someone you know, you can help them by asking them what they are experiencing and what is causing them distress and immediately informing emergency services. Phone 000 for an ambulance, especially if the person complains of chest pains, breathing difficulties or overheating. Report as much information as you can when asking others for help, including the person’s age, weight, if they have mixed alcohol with other drugs and how much alcohol has been consumed. The quicker and more accurate information that is passed on, the easier it is to help someone experiencing adverse effects from alcohol.?Stay with the person and call a friend or family member for assistance immediately. Usually the police will not be informed and will not attend unless ambulance officers feel their safety or the safety of others/a child is at risk, the person cannot be resuscitated or a crime is committed (such as theft or violence).The priority is making sure the person gets the right help immediately in an emergency.

Reducing the risks of alcohol use

The best way to reduce problems with alcohol dependence is to ask for help. If you or a friend think that that your alcohol use might be problematic, it is a good idea to make sure that someone you trust is nearby when you are asking for help. Drug dependence of any kind can make people feel anxious or scared about giving up the drug, which is a normal response to have but often results in the cycle continuing. Giving up drinking alcohol can be challenging because the body becomes ‘tolerant’ or used to functioning with the drug. This can mean that stopping alcohol use results in ‘withdrawal’ symptoms as the body is working out how to function without alcohol in its system. These symptoms can be unpleasant, differing from person to person and ranging from mild to severe. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:?

  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating, fever or chills
  • Depression/anxiety
  • Insomnia (difficulty sleeping)
  • Shaking
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures (fits ) in serious cases
  • Hallucinations

What is a Standard Drink?

There are a wide variety of alcoholic beverages that differ in the amount of alcohol that they contain. The higher the content of alcohol in a beverage the longer it takes for a person’s body to process and remove from the bloodstream.

In Australia, the amount of alcohol that is in a glass, can, or bottle is often referred to in standard drinks. Counting standard drinks enable people to safely measure the amount of alcohol that can be drunk. One standard drink is always equal to 10 grams of alcohol. For example a 375ml bottle of mid-strength beer is equivalent to one standard drink

Created by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the ‘Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol’, recommend the following:

  • Children and young people under the age of 18 should not drink alcohol
  • For healthy men and women, drink no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than 4 standard drinks per day
  • Women who are planning a pregnancy or are pregnant should not drink alcohol. Breastfeeding mothers should avoid drinking alcohol as it is safest for their babies.

Legal Issues

The legal drinking age in Australia is 18 years of age, so it is illegal to sell or get alcohol for anyone under 18 years of age, unless you are the parent or primary caregiver. It is also an offence to drink or carry alcohol in designated alcohol free-zones. Alcohol laws are different depending on the state or territory that a person lives in. If you are interested in understanding the restrictions and laws on alcohol use in your state or territory, please look at the following:

The level of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream is referred to as Blood alcohol concentration (BAC), with a BAC of 0.05% (point 0 five) the legal alcohol limit in Australia for most people. A BAC of 0.05% means that for every 100mls of blood there is 0.05g of alcohol. The level BAC in a person can be influence by a wide range of factors including: gender (male or female), body size, body fat percentage, how much food has been eaten, how quick the body processes alcohol and how often alcohol is consumed.

Australian guidelines on staying below a BAC of 0.05% state that:

  • For Males of an average body size: no more than 2 standard drinks in the first hour and 1 standard drink per hour after that
  • For Females of an average body size: no more than 1 standard drink per hour.

However, these are just guidelines and do not guarantee that a person’s BAC will be under the legal limit even if you follow these guidelines.

You can be tested by police during roadside stops for alcohol testing, with the police are checking for BAC and if you are over the legal limit is serious criminal offence. If you are involved in an accident whilst driving under the influence of alcohol, you may face lengthy jail time.?

Getting help for Alcohol use

If alcohol use is a problem for you or someone you know and you would like to speak to a real person to have your questions answered or to get advice on what to do next, call 1300 858 584 (Alcohol & Drug Foundation Information Line).?

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