Alcohol

beer

Last published: July 16, 2021

What is alcohol?

Alcohol is a depressant drug. Depressants slow down the messages travelling between the brain and body.

What does alcohol look like?

Alcohol is a colourless fermented or brewed liquid made from ethanol and flavoured water.2 3

Other names

Booze, grog, piss, liquor, charge, plonk, bevvies, 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.

The Australian guidelines recommend no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 drinks in one day to reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury. 8,9

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 mood1, 7

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.

Overdose

If you take a large amount, you could overdose.

Call an ambulance straight away by dialling triple zero (000) if you or someone else has any of the following symptoms (ambulance officers don’t need to involve the police):

  • confusion
  • blurred vision
  • clumsiness
  • memory loss
  • nausea, vomiting
  • passing out
  • coma
  • death.1, 10, 11

Coming down

  • The following day after drinking alcohol, you may have a hangover. Its effects include: headache
  • diarrhoea and nausea
  • tiredness and trembling
  • increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • dry mouth
  • trouble concentrating
  • anxiety
  • poor or decreased sleep. 15,16

To sober up takes time. The liver gets rid of about one standard drink 9 an hour. Sweating it out with exercise, cold showers, coffee, fresh air, or vomiting won’t speed up the process. This may ease the symptoms, but it won’t remove alcohol from the bloodstream any faster. This means it may not be safe to drive17 or work the following day. 18

Long-term effects

Regular use of alcohol may eventually cause:

  • depression
  • poor memory and brain damage
  • difficulty getting an erection
  • difficulty having children
  • liver disease
  • cancer
  • high blood pressure and heart disease
  • needing to drink more to get the same effect
  • physical dependence on alcohol.7

Alcohol and mental health

Research shows a relationship between people who are dependent on alcohol and increased mental health issues. People with mental health issues may drink more alcohol to self-medicate. This can lead to longer-term anxiety and depression. 19, 20

Tolerance and dependence

People who regularly use alcohol can become dependent on the drug. They may feel they need alcohol to go about their normal activities like working, studying and socialising, or just to get through the day.

They may also develop a tolerance to it, which means they need to drink larger amounts of alcohol to get the same effect. People who develop a tolerance and dependence on alcohol experience more alcohol-related harms. 21, 2

Mixing 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. 22

Alcohol + energy drinks (with caffeine 23), ice 24, speed or ecstasy 26: more risky behaviour, body under great stress, overdose more likely.

Alcohol + GHB 27 or benzodiazepines 28: decreased heart rate, overdose more likely.

More on Polydrug use

‘Polydrug use’ is a term for the use of more than one drug or type of drug at the same time or one after another.1 Polydrug use can involve both illicit drugs and legal substances, such as alcohol and medications.

Withdrawal

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 drinks and can last for two to seven days. Symptoms include:

  • sweating
  • tremors
  • nausea
  • anxiety, irritability, difficultly sleeping
  • seizure of fits
  • poor appetite
  • delusions and hallucinations
  • death.1, 2, 29

More information about withdrawal

Getting help

If your use of alcohol is affecting your health, family, relationships, work, school, financial or other life situations, or you’re concerned about a loved one, you can find help and support.

Call 1300 85 85 84 to speak to a real person and get your questions answered as well as advice on practical ‘next steps’. It’s confidential too.

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

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’s 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’s 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. 30

Penalties for breaking these laws can include fines, imprisonment, and disqualification from driving. 31

Employers have legal obligations in relation to health and safety of their workers and people who visit their workplace. 32

See also, drugs and the law.

National

  • Alcohol is the most widely used drug in Australia. 33
  • The age group with the greatest number of Australians who drink daily is 70+ years. 34
  • Around 1 in 5 (16.8%) Australians aged 14 years or older drink at levels that put them at risk of alcohol-related harm over their lifetime.34
  • Around 1 in 9(6.7%) people aged 18years or older had consumed 11 or more standard drinks on a single drinking occasion in the past 12 months.34
  • Around 1 in 10 or 9.9% of people who drink are dependent on alcohol 34
  • 52% of Australians took action to reduce their drinking 34
  • 1 in 3 or 35% of women drink alcohol while pregnant, even though the Australian alcohol guidelines recommend not drinking during this time.16, 35
  • Alcohol costs society $36b annually.36, 37
  • In 2017 there were 1,366 registered alcohol related deaths or 5.1 per 100,000 population. 38
  • 1 in 10 workers say they have experienced the negative effects of a co-worker’s use of alcohol. 39 40
  • 8.9% of Australians who used to drink now abstain 34
  • 21% of Australians aged 18 years or older abstain from drinking alcohol 34

Young people

  • Young Australians (aged 14–24) have their first full serve of alcohol at 16.2 years on average. 34
  • 15.7% of sexually active students reported that the last time they had sex they were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. 41
  • More than 1 in 10 deaths of Australian teens aged 14 -17 are related to alcohol consumption. 42
  • Nearly half (47%) of people aged 12 years or older had their first glass of alcohol supplied by a parent and almost one-quarter (25%) were supplied their first glass by their friend. 43
  • 22% of young people in their twenties abstain from alcohol. 34

30% of young adult Australians (aged 18-24) were the most likely age group to drink 11 or more drinks on one occasion. 34

  1. Brands B, Sproule B, Marshman J, Ontario. Addiction Research F. Drugs & drug abuse : a reference text. Toronto, Ont.: Addiction Research Foundation; 1998 [cited 2021 May].
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  3. Healey J. Alcohol and binge drinking. Thirroul, N.S.W.: Spinney Press; 2011 [cited 2021 April].
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  5. Manns H. Plonk: a language lover’s guide to Australian drinking Victoria, Australia: Conversation Media Group; 2017 [cited 2021 April].
  6. bevvies 2014 [cited 2021 April].
  7. Australian Government Department of Health. What are the effects of alcohol? 2020 [cited 2021 April].
  8. National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra: Australian Research Council and Universities Australia. Commonwealth of Australia,; 2020 [cited 2021 June].
  9. Alcohol and Drug Foundation. What is a standard drink? Melbourne, Australia: Alcohol and Drug Foundation; 2017 [cited 2021 April].
  10. Dale CE, Livingston MJ. The burden of alcohol drinking on co-workers in the Australian workplace. Medical Journal of Australia [Internet]. 2010 [cited 2021 April]; 193(3):[138-40 pp.].
  11. Mitchell A, Patrick K, Heywood W, Blackman P, Pitts M. 5th National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health 2013. Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2021 April].
  12. Mayo Clinic Staff. Hangovers [Webpage]. Scottsdale, AZ Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER); 2017 [cited 2021 April 20].
  13. Drug Science. Alcohol [Webpage]. London: Drug Science; 2021 [cited 2021 April 20].
  14. van Lawick van Pabst AE, Devenney LE, Verster JC. Sex Differences in the Presence and Severity of Alcohol Hangover Symptoms. Journal of Clinical Medicine [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2021 April]; 8(6).
  15. Health Direct. Hangover ‘cures’ Haymarket, NSW, Australia: Healthdirect Australia; 2020 [cited 2021 April].
  16. National Health Medical Research Council. Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council; 2009 [cited 2021 April].
  17. VicRoads. Alcohol and road safety Victoria, Australia: VicRoads; 2020 [cited 2021 April].
  18. Victorian Trades Hall Council's (VTHC) Occupational Health and Safety Unit. Alcohol and work Melbourne, Australia: Victorian Trades Hall Council's (VTHC) Occupational Health and Safety Unit; 2020 [cited 2021 April].
  19. Jacob L, Smith L, Armstrong NC, Yakkundi A, Barnett Y, Butler L, et al. Alcohol use and mental health during COVID-19 lockdown: A cross-sectional study in a sample of UK adults. Drug and Alcohol Dependence [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2021 May]; 219:[108488 p.].
  20. Puddephatt J-A, Jones A, Gage SH, Fear NT, Field M, McManus S, et al. Associations of alcohol use, mental health and socioeconomic status in England: Findings from a representative population survey. Drug and Alcohol Dependence [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2021 May]; 219.

21. Haeny AM, Weaver CC, Martinez JA, Steinley D, Sher KJDoPCUUS. Is the deliberate self-induction of alcohol tolerance associated with negative alcohol outcomes? Addictive Behaviors [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2021 May]; 65:[98-101 pp.].

22. Healthline. What Really Happens When You Mix Alcohol and Weed? San Francisco: Healthline Media; 2019 [cited 2021 May].

23. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol and Caffeine US: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; 2020 [cited 2021 May].

24. American Addiction Centers. Mixing Crystal Meth and Alcohol US: American Addiction Centers; 2020 [cited 2021 May].

25. Health Direct. Speed NSW, Australia: Healthdirect Australia; 2021 [cited 2021 May]. Available from:

26. Health Direct. MDMA (ecstasy) NSW, Australia: Health Direct Australia; 2021 [cited 2021 May].

27. Health Direct. GHB NSW, Australia: Health Direct Australia; 2021 [cited 2021 May].

28. American Addiction Centers. Dangers of Combining Benzos and Alcohol TN, US: American Addiction Centers; 2020 [cited 2021 May].

29. Manning V, Arunogiri S, Frei M, Ridley K, Mroz K, Campbell S, et al. Alcohol and other Drug Withdrawal: Practice Guidelines. Richmond, Victoria: Turning Point; 2018 [cited 2021 June].

30. Australian Government Department of Health. Alcohol laws in Australia Canberra, Australia: Department of Health; 2020 [cited 2021 May]. Available from:

31. Ng E. Drink Driving Penalties in Australia Victoria, Australia: Andatech Group; 2020 [cited 2021 May].

32. Safe Work Australia. Duties under WHS laws Canberra, Australia: Safe Work Australia; 2020 [cited 2021 May].

33. Health Direct. Substance abuse NSW, Australia: Health Direct Australia; 2020 [cited 2021 May].

34. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. National drug strategy household survey 2019 2020 [cited 2021 May].

35. National Health Medical Research Council. Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol 2009.

36. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia: Economic impacts Canberra, Australia: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; 2021 [cited 2021 May].

37. Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education. 2019 Commonwealth pre-budget submission 2018 [cited 2021 May].

38. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia: Health impacts Canberra, Australia: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; 2021 [cited 2021 May].

39. Cercarelli R, Allsop S, Evans E, Velander F. Reducing alcohol-related harm in the workplace. An evidence review: summary report. Melbourne, Australia: Victorian Health Promotion Foundation; 2012 [cited 2021 May].

40. Laslett AM, Room R, Ferris J, Wilkinson C, Livingston M, Mugavin J. Surveying the range and magnitude of alcohol's harm to others in Australia.Addiction (Abingdon, England) [Internet]. 2011 [cited 2021 May]; 106(9):[1603-11 pp.].

41. Fisher C, Waling A, Kerr L, Bellamy R, Ezer P, Mikolajczak G, et al. 6th National Survey of Secondary Students and Sexual Health 2018. Bundoora, Australia: Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, La Trobe University; 2019 [cited 2021 May].

42. Mattick R, Smith J.NDARC Fact Sheet: Alcohol and young people 2016 [cited 2021 May].

43. Guerin N, White V. Australian secondary school students’ use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs in 2017. Melbourne, Victoria: Cancer Council Victoria; 2020 [cited 2021 May].

44. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders : DSM-5. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2013. Available from:

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Explore depressants on the Drug Wheel

Drug wheel segment - Depressants segment@2x.png

Effects

blurred vision, clumsiness, coma, confusion, death, happiness, increased confidence, memory loss, passing out, relaxation, sadness, slow reflexes, trouble concentrating, vomiting

AKA

booze, charge, grog, hooch, liquor, nip, piss, sauce