Alcohol

Share

Alcohol is the most widely used recreational drug in Australia. Used in moderation, alcohol is safe, but it's the opposite when it comes to binge drinking, alcoholism, drink driving or drink spiking.

No matter how old you are or whether you drink or not, it's important to know how alcohol affects people and to learn ways to minimise the risks.

This page has information about:

> The effects of alcohol
> Binge drinking
> Standard drinks
> Sobering up
> Alcohol dependency
> Where to get help for alcohol problems
> Other risks with alcohol
> Alcohol and the law
> Links to more information

The effects of alcohol

Alcohol can enter your bloodstream very quickly. Unlike food, it doesn't require digestion. Once consumed it can reach your brain within minutes.

Different people react differently to alcohol. This can be due to:

  • The type of alcohol being consumed (amount, strength)
  • The person drinking (sex, age, body weight, state of mind)
  • The environment where drinking is happening (time of day, being alone, being active)

A few drinks might make you feel relaxed, but your ability to concentrate is reduced and your reflexes will slow down, making you clumsier.

After a few more drinks you may feel more confident, but you might also have slurred speech, mood swings and less co-ordination.

After even more drinks you may get confused or experience blurred vision, poor muscle control and poor judgement. This could cause you to get into arguments or fights, or to do something reckless or dangerous that risks injury.

Keep drinking and you'll start to feel nauseous. You may end up vomiting. The worst-case scenario is falling into a coma or dying.

That's just the physical effects. Because alcohol can lower your inhibitions there's a good chance that drinking too much could make you start an argument or a fight, or make you say or do things that upset or offend your friends.

Sometimes even the simple fact of being in an environment where lots of alcohol is being drunk can put you at risk of getting attacked - like getting involved in a fight you didn't start, or being sexually assaulted.

For more about the social side of drinking and ways to help yourself and your friends avoid causing trouble, check out our Safe partying and Parties - What could go wrong pages.

Hello Sunday Morning (new window) is a movement towards a better drinking culture that encourages people to manage their own drinking. You can start managing your drinking by taking their drinking quiz or downloading their app.

back to top of page

Binge drinking

Heavy drinking or drinking just to get drunk is called "binge drinking". You should be aware of the dangers of bingeing. Check out our page on binge drinking, featuring "roving reporter Soren's video about safe amounts of alcohol to drink in a single night.

back to top of page

What's a standard drink?

A "standard drink" is a drink that contains 10 grams of pure alcohol.

Note that a standard drink is NOT equivalent to one beer, one glass of wine or one shot of spirits. Every kind of alcoholic drink has a different amount of alcohol in it, so the number of standard drinks in one serve of that kind of drink is also different.

Here's a very rough guide to how many standard drinks are in the more common serves of alcohol:

  • 1 30ml shot of spirits = 1 standard drink
  • One stubbie of full strength beer = 1.4 standard drinks
  • One glass of wine (usually around 150ml) = 1.4 standard drinks
  • 1 can of premixed spirits = 1.4 to 2.1 standard drinks (depending on the spirit)

The Federal Government's National Health and Medical Research Council says that, generally speaking:

  • For males, drinking more than 7-10 standard drinks on any one day is risky
  • For females, drinking more than 5-6 standard drinks on any one day is risky

For more about standard drinks, check out Say When (new window).

back to top of page

Sobering up

The only way to sober up is to give your body time to process the alcohol you've consumed.

It takes a healthy liver roughly an hour to process three-quarters of a standard drink. This can vary according to your size, gender and general health.

This means:

  • If you drink 10 pots of beer it will take at least 10 hours for the alcohol to leave your system
  • If you drink 2 glasses of wine (200ml) it will be at least 2 hours before the alcohol leaves your system

Despite what you may have heard, the following have no effect in reducing the level of alcohol in a person's body:

  • Drinking coffee
  • Exercise
  • Taking a shower
  • Going for a swim
  • Sleeping

In fact, your blood alcohol level can continue to rise 3 hours after your last drink. Your body simply needs time to recover.

Anyone driving under a Learner or Provisional (red P1 and green P2) licence has to have a blood alcohol concentration of ZERO. If you're a learner, your supervising driver, must also have a blood alcohol concentration of ZERO.

back to top of page

Alcoholism and alcohol dependency

There is no set definition of an alcoholic. Organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous say that it's up to the individual to decide for themselves if they are an alcoholic or not. However, there are some common behaviours that are agreed upon as signs that someone may be dependent on alcohol, including:

  • Being unable to control or manage your drinking
  • Needing a drink first thing in the morning after waking up
  • Having memory lapses when drinking
  • Getting into trouble (arguments, fights) regularly when drinking

Regular consumption of large amounts of alcohol has a negative effect on your physical and mental health. It also negatively affects friendships and relationships with family members, and the ability to do what is needed for school, uni or work.

People who drink a lot on a regular basis can become dependent on alcohol. This means they start to need a drink in order to operate "normally". They may also develop a tolerance, which means they need to drink more to get the same effect.

Withdrawal

People who are dependent on alcohol find it very difficult to stop using it. If a dependent person stops drinking, they may have withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms usually start about 4–12 hours after the last drink and can continue for about 4–5 days.

These symptoms can include:

  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety

The Youth Support and Advocacy Service (YSAS) in Melbourne has some helpful information about withdrawal (new window), including what to expect, how to prepare for it and where to find help.

back to top of page

Help with alcohol problems

If you have a friend or family member with an alcohol problem and you are unsure of how to help them you can talk to counsellors, doctors and health professionals about the issue.

Counsellors and health professionals provide confidential advice and can refer you to a drug service that is right for you or your friend or family member. You can find a counsellor by:

Check out the Links at the bottom of the page for more places that can provide information or help with alcohol or other drugs.

back to top of page

Other risks with alcohol

There are other risks associated with alcohol beside the health and social effects, including the risk of drink driving, the issue of violence and alcohol, and the risk of drink spiking.

Drink driving

Roughly one quarter of all fatalities on Victorian roads are related to drink driving.

If you're a P-Plater you're not allowed to have any alcohol in your system while driving. If you're on your full license, your blood alcohol content can't be more than 0.05.

If you're stopped by police and asked to take a breath test, you must do so. If you don't, you can be charged, fined and disqualified from driving for at least two years.

The VicRoads website has information about all of the road rules relating to alcohol and drugs (new window). The TAC website has information about drink driving statistics in Victoria (new window).

The Better Health Channel also has lots of info about the dangers of drink driving (new window).

Alcohol and violence

Alcohol can make a person's behaviour become abusive or violent. No one has to put up with any kind of abuse. If you need help and support because someone close to you is drinking and becoming abusive you can:

  • Phone Lifeline on 131 114
  • Phone Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

Drink spiking

Drink spiking is when someone sneaks alcohol or drugs into your drink. If you've had your drink spiked you can lose control very quickly and can be put in a position where you may be sexually assaulted, robbed or harmed.

To protect yourself from the risk of drink spiking, it's a good idea to:

  • Party with trusted friends
  • Arrange how you'll look out for each other while out
  • Buy your own drinks
  • Watch the bartender prepare your drink
  • Not accept any drinks from strangers

ReachOut's Drink spiking page (new window) and The Better Health Channel's page on drink spiking (new window) have more information.

back to top of page

Alcohol and the law

If you're under 18 it's illegal to either carry alcohol or consume it in a public place. It's also illegal to be in a venue that serves alcohol (unless you're with a responsible adult over 18).

If you're over 18, buying alcohol for your friends who are under 18 is illegal in Victoria. If you're caught out, you could be up for a fine.

It's also illegal in Victoria to provide alcohol to anyone under 18 when you're in a private residence, like someone's home, unless you have specific permission from that person's parents or guardians.

Breaking any of these laws is punishable by fines of between $500 and $7000.

back to top of page

Links

Hello Sunday Morning
HSM is a movement towards a better drinking culture. Start your journey by doing their drinking quiz or downloading their app.

Better Health Channel - Alcohol
The Victorian Government's Health website has lots of information about alcohol, from social drinking to the health effects of alcohol.

Say When
Say When has lots of simple tools for staying in control of your drinking, including a drink check chart, a drink calculator and tools to monitor your own drinking profile.

Youth Support and Advocacy Service (YSAS)
A youth focussed organisation that run detox programs and provide support for young people with substance abuse issues.

Al Anon/AlaTeen
Al Anon is a fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics who share their experience in order to solve their common problems. AlaTeen is a fellowship of young Al-Anon members, usually teenagers, whose lives have been affected by someone else's drinking.

Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous is a not-for-profit organisation that seeks to help alcoholics to reduce and quit their drinking.

back to top of page