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For anyone wanting to have a drink or to get drunk, it’s a good idea to know what you’re actually putting into your system. That way, you’ll understand what it’s doing to you and how it might affect you.

This can help if:

  • you want to know what will happen if you drink alcohol
  • you want to learn about different sorts of alcohol
  • you want to know why people drink alcohol.
Group toasting glasses

What is alcohol?

Alcohol is a legal drug that’s consumed in a drink. It’s classified as a depressant, which means it slows down brain activity. That’s another way of saying that alcohol slows a person’s response time, so they can become uncoordinated, have slower reflexes and make poor decisions.

Types of alcohol

There are many different alcoholic drinks available. These are the three main types:

  • Beer is prepared by brewing and fermenting grains, then flavouring the mixture with hops, a flower that gives beer its bitterness. The alcohol content of beer usually ranges from 4% to 6% by volume.
  • Wine is made using fermented fruits (usually grapes). Wine is completely fermented and has a long ageing process, which produces an alcohol content of around 9% to 16%.
  • Spirits are a product of both fermentation and distillation. Spirits are stronger alcohols and can have an alcohol content of above 20%. Spirits include things like vodka, gin and whiskey, and are the base ingredient for most cocktails.

What is a standard drink?

In Australian bars, clubs and pubs, alcohol should be served in what’s called a ‘standard drink’. This makes it a bit easier to control the amount of alcohol a person is drinking in one session.

One standard drink contains 10 grams of pure alcohol, which can be a small, strong shot or a large, weaker drink.

Each of the following is one standard drink:

  • 425 ml schooner of light beer (2.7% alcohol)
  • 285 ml middy of regular beer (4.9% alcohol)
  • 100 ml glass of wine (12% alcohol)
  • 30 ml shot of spirits (40% alcohol)
  • 60 ml glass of port or sherry (20% alcohol).

It’s important to remember that the size of drinks served at some places, particularly at parties or at home, can have more alcohol than the defined standard drink. A single cocktail or a glass of party punch might be the equivalent of up to six standard drinks.

What are the effects of alcohol?

Like all drugs, the effect of alcohol varies from person to person. There are a few things that impact how alcohol affects a person:

  • how much they’ve had to drink
  • how quickly they’ve drunk the alcohol
  • whether they’ve mixed alcohol with other drugs
  • how regularly they drink
  • their mood when they’re drinking
  • their age, sex and body weight
  • their current health.

When you consume alcohol, it enters your brain and slows down the actions of the central nervous system. This can make you feel:

  • warm and fuzzy
  • confident
  • dizzy
  • energetic
  • extra-friendly
  • sleepy
  • easily confused
  • violent or aggressive.

If you drink too much alcohol, you could end up with alcohol poisoning. This involves feeling nauseous and vomiting, memory loss, passing out, and sometimes loss of control over your bladder.

What can I do now?