What is alcohol?
Alcohol is a drug that slows down the brain and nervous system. It is the most widely used drug in Australia.
Drinking a small amount is not harmful for most people, but regular drinking of a lot of alcohol can cause health, personal and social problems.
What are the effects of alcohol?
The effects of alcohol differ from person to person, depending on:
· how much you drink
· how quickly you drink it
· your size and weight
· whether you are male or female
· how good your general health is
· how healthy your liver is
· where you drink
· whether you drink alone
· whether you use alcohol with other drugs
What are the immediate effects?
Alcohol slows down the messages sent between the brain and the rest of the body. This can make you:
· feel good
· do or say things you normally wouldn't
· feel dizzy
· have bad balance
· have trouble controlling how you move (bad coordination)
· react slowly
· have blurred vision (not see clearly)
· slur your words (not speak clearly)
· get angry
Drinking a lot in a short time can cause:
· a hangover
· passing out
· stopping breathing (rare)
Because alcohol affects sight and co-ordination, drinking often causes accidents - especially car crashes and drownings.
What are the long-term effects?
Drinking a lot of alcohol regularly over time is likely to cause physical, emotional or social problems.
These can include:
· poor diet
· stomach problems
· frequent infections
· skin problems
· liver and brain damage
· damage to reproductive organs
· memory loss/confusion
· heart and blood disorder
· relationship problems
· work problems
· money or legal troubles
Damage to some body organs can be permanent.
Women and alcohol
Doctors suggest that women should drink less than men. This is because women's body tissue absorbs higher concentration of alcohol than men's.
· get drunk more quickly than men;
· recover from drinking more slowly than men;
· go over the legal driving limit more quickly than men.
Tolerence and dependence
Anyone can develop a 'tolerance' to alcohol. Tolerance means that you must drink more to feel the same effects you used to have with lower amounts.
'Dependence' on alcohol means that it takes up much of your thoughts, emotions and activities. Not all people who drink are dependent.
Dependent people find it very difficult to stop or reduce drinking. This is because of withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms include:
· hallucinations (seeing or hearing things)
Mixing alcohol with other drugs
Using alcohol at the same time as any other drug can be dangerous. This includes drinking alcohol while using medicines from the chemist or doctor. One drug can make the negative effects of the other even worse. Alcohol can also stop medicines from working properly.
Mixing alcohol with other drugs that slow down the body (e.g. sleeping pills, heroin, marijuana) can:
· make it harder think clearly
· make it harder to properly control how you move
· stop your breathing and cause death
Alcohol and pregnancy
Regular drinking of any alcohol during pregnancy can cause problems for both the mother and the baby. Drinking a lot can lead to losing the baby before it is born or the baby being born with foetal alcohol syndrome (slow growth before and after birth, and mental disabilities). Doctors do not think that pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant should drink alcohol at all.
What is a standard drink?
A 'standard drink' is the measure of alcohol used to work out safe drinking levels.
All these drinks (common servings in NSW) are different sizes but each of them has about 10grams of alcohol. The drinks are different sizes because some are stronger (have more alcohol) than others.
What is binge drinking?
Binge-drinking means drinking a lot over a few hours - or non-stop over days or weeks. This can be very dangerous as it makes the harms from alcohol worse. Also, because drinking a lot can stop you thinking clearly and acting sensibly, you may put yourself in danger from other things.
What is Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)?
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) means how much alcohol is in a person's blood. A breathalyser measures the amount of alcohol in a person's breath and gives an idea of BAC. The gives a number, such as .05. A person with a BAC level of .05 has more alcohol in their blood than someone with a level of .02. BAC is determined by how much a person drinks and how long they take to drink it.
Alcohol and driving
Alcohol causes around one-third of all road deaths. There are laws to limit the amount a person can drink before driving.
In Australia, the legal limit for drinking and driving for most people is .05 BAC.
In NSW and WA the limit is zero for:
· L- and P-plate drivers
· drivers under 25 for their first three years of driving [if starting with P-plates]
· drivers of heavy vehicles (like trucks), public passenger vehicles (like buses) and dangerous goods vehicles (like trucks carrying chemicals).
It is difficult to work out how many drinks will put a person over the legal drink-driving limits. Some people will reach higher BAC more quickly, including:
· people who are not healthy
· people with an empty stomach
· people with smaller bodies
· overweight people
If your legal limit is .05 a good guide is:
· 2 standard drinks in the first hour and then 1 per hour after that.
If your legal limit is .02 a good guide is:
· avoid drinking at all before driving, as just 1 standard drink could be enough to put you over the limit.
If you drink more than this and drive, then you are breaking the law and could lose your licence, get a fine or go to prison. Any drink-driver who injures or kills someone can be sent to prison.
Sobering up, or getting the alcohol out of your body, takes time. A little bit of the alcohol (about 10%) leaves the body in breath, sweat and urine, but most is broken down by the liver.
The liver can only get rid of about one standard drink per hour. Nothing can speed this up - not even black coffee, cold showers, exercise or vomiting.
You can still be over the legal limit even a few hours after your last drink, even if you feel okay.
Alcohol and the law
It is illegal to sell alcohol to - or get it for - anyone under 18.
It is also illegal to sell alcohol to someone who is already drunk.
In NSW, police can keep you in a 'proclaimed place' (usually a police station) for up to eight hours if you are drunk in a public place and behaving in a disorderly way. In some other states these places are called 'sobering-up shelters'.