Last published: May 03, 2021

What is alcohol?

Alcohol is a depressant drug, which slows down messages travelling between the brain and body .1

Other names

Booze, grog, piss, liquor, charge, nip.

Other types of depressants

Effects of alcohol

There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk. It’s important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

Alcohol affects everyone differently, based on:

  • size, weight and health
  • whether the person is used to taking it
  • whether other drugs are taken around the same time
  • the amount drunk
  • the strength of the drink.

You may experience:

  • feeling relaxed
  • trouble concentrating
  • slower reflexes
  • increased confidence
  • feeling happier or sadder, depending on your mood.1,2

The term 'binge drinking' generally refers to drinking heavily over a short period with the intention of getting drunk.

National alcohol guidelines

Based on the latest scientific evidence, new alcohol guidelines have been released to help reduce the risk of alcohol harm and improve the health of Australians.

If you consume a lot of alcohol, you might experience:

  • confusion
  • blurred vision
  • clumsiness
  • memory loss
  • nausea, vomiting
  • passing out
  • coma
  • death.1,2


The following day, you may have a hangover. Its effects can include:

  • headache
  • diarrhoea and nausea
  • tiredness and trembling
  • increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • dry mouth
  • trouble concentrating
  • anxiety
  • poor or decreased sleep.3,4

Sobering up

Sobering up takes time. The liver gets rid of about one standard drink an hour. Sweating it out with exercise, cold showers, coffee, fresh air or vomiting will not speed up the process. They may ease the symptoms, but they do not remove alcohol from the bloodstream any faster. This means it may not be safe to drive or work the following day.3,4

Long term effects

Regular use of alcohol may eventually cause:

  • depression
  • poor memory and brain damage
  • difficulty getting an erection
  • difficulty having children, see alcohol and pregnancy
  • liver disease
  • cancer
  • high blood pressure and heart disease
  • needing to drink more to get the same effect
  • physical dependence on alcohol.

Drinking alcohol with other drugs

The effects of drinking and taking other drugs − including over-the-counter or prescribed medications − can be unpredictable and dangerous, and could cause:

Alcohol + cannabis: nausea, vomiting, panic, anxiety and paranoia.6

Alcohol + energy drinks (with caffeine), ice, speed or ecstasy: more risky behaviour, body under great stress, overdose more likely.

Alcohol + GHB or benzodiazepines: decreased heart rate, overdose more likely.5


Giving up alcohol after a long time is challenging because the body has to get used to functioning without it. Please seek advice from a health professional.

Withdrawal symptoms can start within a few hours after the last drink and can last for two to seven days. These symptoms can include:

  • sweating
  • tremors
  • nausea
  • anxiety, irritability, difficulty sleeping
  • seizures or fits
  • delusions and hallucinations
  • death.1

Getting help

If your use of alcohol is affecting your health, family, relationships, work, school, financial or other life situations, you can find help and support.

Call 1300 85 85 84 to speak to a real person and get answers to your questions as well as advice on practical ‘next steps’.

You can also search our list of Support Services for services in your local area:

Help and Support

Search by service type and location

See more Support Services

There are laws that govern how alcohol may be used. These laws may differ depending on the state, territory or local area. For example, in some areas local by-laws make it illegal to drink alcohol in public places such as beaches, parks and streets.

It is an offence for a person who is under 18 years of age to buy, receive or drink alcohol on licensed premises, unless they are with a parent or guardian.

In some states in Australia, it is also an offence to supply a person under 18 years of age with alcohol in a private home, unless the young person’s parent or guardian has given permission and the alcohol is supplied in a responsible manner. This is known as secondary supply.

It is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol.

Penalties for breaking these laws can include fines, imprisonment and disqualification from driving.

Employers have legal obligations in relation to health and safety of their workers and people who visit their workplace.

See also, drugs and the law.


Alcohol is the most widely used drug in Australia.

  • The age group with the greatest number of Australians who drink daily is 70+ years.8
  • Around 1 in 5 (17.1%) Australians over 14 drink at levels that put them at risk of alcohol-related harm over their lifetime.8
  • Around 1 in 15 (6.9%) people aged 12 years or older had consumed 11 or more standard drinks on a single drinking occasion in the past 12 months.8
  • 1 in 4 women drink alcohol while pregnant, even though the Australian alcohol guidelines recommend not drinking during this time.9
  • $7b is generated by alcohol-related tax. But alcohol costs society $15.3b annually.10
  • Alcohol caused more than twice as many deaths (3,494) than road accidents (1,600) in 2005.11
  • 1 in 10 workers say they have experienced the negative effects of a co-worker’s use of alcohol.12,13

Young People

  • Young Australians (aged 14–24) have their first full serve of alcohol at 16.1 years on average.8
  • 82% of 12–17 years old have not consumed alcohol in the last 12 months.8
  • 17%  of sexually active students reported that the last time they had sex they were drunk or high.15
  • Alcohol contributes to the 3 major causes of teen death: injury, homicide and suicide.13
  • Nearly half (47%) of people aged 12 or older had their first glass of alcohol supplied by a friend and almost one-quarter (24%) were supplied their first glass by their parent.8
  1. Brands B; Sproule B; & Marshman J. (Eds.) (1998) Drugs & Drug Abuse (3rd Ed.) Ontario: Addiction Research Foundation.
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (5th ed). Washington: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  3. Mayo Clinic. (2014). Diseases and Conditions – Hangovers.
  4. Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. (2013). Alcohol.
  5. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.(n.d.). Alcohol’s effect on the body.
  6. Mixing Week with Other Drugs: What’s the deal?. (2017). Retrieved from
  7. Stockwell, T., Heather, N., &  Peters, T. (2001). International Handbook of Alcohol Dependence and Problems. Chester, United Kingdom: John Wiley and Sons Ltd.
  8. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2017). National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report 2016. Canberra: AIHW.
  9. Callinan, S., & Room, R. (2012). Alcohol consumption during pregnancy: results from the 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey. Canberra: Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.
  10. Manning, M., Smith, C., & Mazerolle, P. (2013). The societal costs of alcohol misuse in Australia. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.
  11. Collins, D., & Lapsley, H. (2008). The costs of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug abuse to Australian society in 2004/05. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
  12. Laslett, A.M., Catalano, P., Chikritzhs, T., et al. (2010). The range and magnitude of alcohol’s harm to others. Fitzroy: AER Centre for Alcohol Policy Research.
  13. Dale, C.E., & Livingston, M. (2010). The burden of alcohol drinking on co-workers in the Australian workplace. Medical Journal of Australia193(3), 138-140.
  14. Mitchell A, Patrick K, Heywood W, Blackman P, Pitts M. (2014). 5th National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health 2013, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.
  15. National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol, Canberra: NHMRC.

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