Alcoholic drinks are the result of fermentation in which water and yeast act on the sugars of various types of grains, vegetables and fruits. Ethyl alcohol, the active ingredient in alcoholic drinks, is a drug that acts as a depressant to your central nervous system. This causes your body to function at a slower rate than when not affected.
A standard drink contains 10 grams of pure alcohol. One standard drink is:
Gender, age, mental health, drug use, and existing medical conditions can change how alcohol affects you. Responsible drinking is about balancing your enjoyment of alcohol with the potential risks and harms that may arise from drinking, especially if you go beyond low risk drinking levels.
Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach and the small intestine. Consuming alcohol may cause you to do things you wouldn’t do when sober. The immediate effects of drinking alcohol can produce a wide range of feelings, emotions and behaviours, depending on the amount consumed. Effects such as, feeling relaxed, more confident, and sometimes happier are most common.
There is clear evidence that drinking above recommended levels can impact on your mental health.
If you or your family have a history of psychosis and consume alcohol you may become more confused and disorganised, and you are more likely to hear or see things that are not happening.
Drinking alcohol increases the likelihood and severity of mood swings and, for people who suffer from depression, excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of suicide and self-harm. Drinking alcohol can also increase your risk of unwanted or unsafe sex, assault and problems with the law.
There is considerable evidence to indicate that people with a mental health problem are more likely to have an alcohol misuse or dependence problem. Alcohol misuse is itself a causal factor in a number of mental health conditions including alcoholic psychosis, alcohol dependence syndrome and alcohol related dementia.
People with significant alcohol dependence have reported that alcohol helps to reduce their anxiety however, while alcohol consumption may bring some relief from anxiety, depression or stress in the short term, it can worsen moods in the longer term, especially with continued drinking over two days or more, and/or at higher levels of consumption.
Alcohol in combination with any other drug can be dangerous. The effects of the drugs may be increased or unpredictable, and may make you ill.
Taking alcohol with benzodiazepines (e.g. valium) or opiates (e.g. heroin or methadone) can increase the risk of overdose or even death. Alcohol on its own can cause death if consumed in very high doses.
The effect of some drug and alcohol combinations may cause drowsiness and reduce the ability to carry out simple tasks. The effects of some drugs (eg. antibiotics) can be neutralized and therefore ineffective.
Alcohol intoxication, where there are high peak levels of alcohol in the blood stream, may negatively affect the foetus. This can lead to Foetal Alcohol Syndrome as well as the baby experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon birth.
Possible complications include miscarriages, stillbirth and premature birth. There is no safe level of drinking during pregnancy.
The onset of alcohol withdrawal begins within 6-24 hours of your last drink, and in heavily dependent people withdrawal may begin even when there are still high levels of alcohol in the bloodstream.
Withdrawal times vary between 2-12 days. Severe alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening however, most alcohol withdrawal syndromes are over in 72 hours from the last drink. Alcohol withdrawals should always be carried out with medical support or in a supervised setting.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
Early use can increase alcohol dependence later in life. Alcohol does less harm at age 21 than at age 18. Each year, almost 2000 people under the age of 21 years die in car crashes in which underage drinking is involved. Alcohol is involved in nearly half of all violent deaths involving teens. Teens that drink are more likely to engage in sexual activity, have unprotected sex, or have sex with a stranger. Binge drinking can lead to impaired brain function.
Low risk drinking is considered to be:
Other ways to reduce harm:
Also check the related topics:Alcohol Grog and Other Drugs