How does alcohol work?

Alcohol can have a different effect on your body and mind based on a number of different factors. The immediate effects of alcohol can be fairly mild, however the long term impact of alcohol misuse can be seriously damaging to mental and physical health. Alcohol can also contribute to anti-social behaviour, impairing a person's judgement and self-awareness.

This might help if you want to know:

  • How alcohol might affect you
  • What some of the long term impacts of alcohol use are
  • How alcohol might impact your behaviour
Beers in colourful bucket

What are the effects of alcohol?

Like other drugs, the effect of alcohol varies from person to person. But there are some factors which are likely to influence how a person could be affected. These include:

  • How much they have had to drink
  • How quickly they have drunk the alcohol 
  • Whether they have mixed alcohol with other drugs
  • How regularly they drink
  • Their mood when they are drinking
  • Their age, sex and body weight
  • Their health at the time

Alcohol is a depressant drug which means it slows down the body’s ability to respond to situations. Alcohol has the ability to affect physical co-ordination and judgement.

Some of the other more immediate effects of alcohol may include:

  • Feeling more confident
  • Feeling sleepy
  • Losing balance or feeling dizzy

If you drink a lot you’re likely to experience more physical effects like:

  • Nausea
  • Shakiness
  • Vomiting and memory loss
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Losing control of your body, including your bladder

What are some of the long term effects of alcohol?

Continuous heavy drinking over a long period of time can lead to:

  • Physical and psychological dependence on alcohol
  • Significant damage to the brain and liver
  • Possible increased risk of neurological disorders and heart problems
  • Sexual dysfunction (particularly male impotence)
  • Emotional and mental health problems developing, such as depression and anxiety
  • Negative impact on relationships
  • Problems with work and study

In addition to the health risks, drinking may also impact your self-esteem and social life because you may find yourself doing things when you’re drunk that you wouldn’t normally do if you were sober. In fact, one in two Australians aged 15 – 17 who get drunk will do something they regret.

Alcohol’s effect on behaviour

Being drunk also affects your judgement and may lead to you:

  • Having unprotected sex, or unwanted sex. This could lead to unplanned pregnancy or STIs.
  • Feeling bad about yourself and embarrassed by your actions.
  • Losing friends or loved ones as a result of your behaviour.
  • Losing money that you need for other things after reckless spending on alcohol.
  • Drinking alcohol also increases the likelihood of acting in a violent way. Violence is really serious and if you are becoming violent when you drink, it may be a good idea to take a closer look at your alcohol consumption.

If you feel like your drinking is getting out of control, have a read of the 'I think I might have a drinking problem' fact sheet.

What can I do now?

  • Don’t mix alcohol with other drugs.
  • Avoid using alcohol to control emotions.
  • Make sure you have a safe way to get home if you’re drinking away from home.
Last reviewed: 06 August, 2015
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