What is Alcohol?
Alcohol is often not thought of as a drug because it is used for both religious and social purposes in most parts of the world. Compulsive drinking in excess has become a serious social problem of modern society.
Drug class: Sedative/Hypnotic
- a drink containing the drug ethanol (ethyl alcohol), a clear colorless liquid
- a liquid produced by fermentation, the action of water and yeast on sugars of various types of grains, vegetables and fruits
- alcoholic beverages derive colors from diluents, additives and fermentation by-products
- a drug that slows down the brain and nervous system.
- not harmful when used in small amounts as a relaxant
- regular excessive drinking can cause health problems and personal and social stigma.
Alcohol Usage Statistics
Who uses Alcohol?
- 79% of adults reported drinking alcohol at some point
- 55% have five drinks or more at a single sitting
- 10% report daily drinking
- young people between 12 and 19 years, recorded 73% using alcohol at least once in the past year
- in grades 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 , 66% admitted to alcohol use
- more than 80% of the grade 11 and 13 students admitted drinking
- more than one in five of all students surveyed drank more than once a week
- most researchers agree that 1 in 20 drinkers in North America has an alcohol dependency problem.
Effects of taking Alcohol
Short term Effects of Alcohol
The effects of vary for each person depending on:
- how much
- what type
- male or female
- general health
- rate of consumption
- size and weight
- condition of liver
- where alcohol is consumed
- if alcohol is drunk alone or if alcohol is used with other drugs
How Alcohol Works:
Alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream from the small intestine, and less rapidly from the stomach and colon. Dependant on the alcohol concentration in the bloodstream, it decreases activity in parts of the brain and spinal cord.
Once the alcohol has passed into the blood, however, no food or beverage can retard or interfere with its effects. Fruit sugar, however, in some cases can shorten the duration of alcohol's effect by speeding up its elimination from the blood.
In the average adult, the rate of metabolism is about 8.5 g of alcohol per hour (i.e. about two-thirds of a regular beer or about 30 mL of spirits an hour), but varies dramatically depending on such diverse factors as:
- usual amount of drinking
- liver size
- other genetic factors.
Alcohol slows down the messages sent between the brain and the rest of the body making one:
- have a good feeling
- do or say things you may not usually do or say
- feel dizzy
- to flush
- have balance affected
- have trouble controlling movement (bad coordination)
- have slow reactions
- have blurred vision (not see clearly)
- have slurred words (not speak clearly)
- get angry
- get aggressive
- to lose inhibitions
Excessive drinking over a short time can cause:
- passing out
- stop breathing (rare)
- brain damage
- hangover (due partly to poisoning by alcohol and other components of the drink, and the body's reaction to withdrawal from alcohol)
- Because alcohol affects sight and co-ordination it often causes accidents - especially car crashes and drowning.
Long Term Effects of Alcohol
The effects of any drug depend on several factors:
- the amount taken at one time
- the user's past drug experience
- the manner in which the drug is taken
- the circumstances under which the drug is taken (the place, the user's psychological and emotional stability, the presence of other people, the concurrent use of other drugs, etc.)
Drinking excessive alcohol over a long time can cause physical, emotional or social problems, and can be and can be primary (resulting directly from prolonged exposure to the toxic) effects of alcohol, such as:
- heart and liver disease
- inflammation of the stomach
or secondary indirectly related to chronic alcohol abuse, including:
- loss of appetite
- vitamin deficiencies
- poor nutrition
- stomach problems
- frequent infections
- skin problems
- liver, brain and reproductive organ damage
- memory loss/confusion
- heart and blood disorders
- sexual impotence
- menstrual irregularities
- relationship problems
- work problems, including poor work performance
- money or legal problems
- risk of serious disease increases with the amount of alcohol consumed
- damage to body organs may be permanent
Early death rates are much higher for heavy drinkers than for light drinkers or abstainers particularly from:
- heart and liver disease
- some types of cancer
- acute alcohol poisoning
Binge drinking means excessive drinking over a few hours non-stop over days or weeks and can be very dangerous as it makes the problems from alcohol worse.
A 'standard drink' is the measure of alcohol used to work out safe drinking levels (about 10grams of alcohol).
1 schooner 425mls 2.7% alcohol
1 middie or pot 285mls 4.9% alcohoL
1 glass 100ml 12% alcohol
1 nip 30ml 40% alcohol
1 glass 60ml 20% alcohol
Sensible Drinking Guidelines
STANDARD DRINKS a day
LEVEL OF RISK
STANDARD DRINKS a day
up to 2
up to 4
more than 4
more than 6
Everyone should have at least 2 alcohol-free days a week.
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) means how much alcohol is present in a person's blood. A breathalyzer test measures the amount of alcohol in a person's breath and gives an idea of BAC. The test gives a percentage, 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 is absorbed very quickly into the blood from the stomach, in as short a time as 5 to 10 minutes but the effects can last for several hours depending on the amount and how quickly it was drunk. Alcohol intake is measured in units, one unit being 8 grammes of pure alcohol, which is equal to half a pint of normal strength beer/lager/cider, a standard glass of wine or a pub measure of spirits.
BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentrate) (ma/dL) (milligrams alcohol per decilitre blood)
- Mild intoxicationfeeling of warmth
- impaired judgment
- decreased inhibitions
- obvious intoxication in most people
- Increased impairment of judgment
- inhibition, attention, and control
- Some impairment of muscular performance
- slowing of reflexes
Obvious intoxication in all normal people
• Staggering gait and lack of other muscular coordination
• slurred speech
• double vision
• memory and comprehension loss
- Extreme intoxication or stupor
- Reduced response to stimuli
- inability to stand
- little response to stimuli
- low body temperature
- poor respiration
- fall in blood pressure
- clammy skin
• Death likely
Women and alcohol
Women should drink less than men because:
- women's body tissue absorbs higher concentration of alcohol than men's
- women's liver processes the alcohol slower
- get drunk quicker than men
- recover from drinking more slowly
- go over the legal driving limit more quickly than men
Alcohol and Pregnancy
Regular alcohol drinking during pregnancy may cause problems for both the mother and baby. Excessive drinking can lead to:
Some babies are born fetal alcohol syndrome or FAS. The most serious consequences of this condition include:
- mental retardation
- growth deficiency
- head and facial deformities
- joint and limb abnormalities
- heart defects
- the risk of bearing an FAS-afflicted child increases with the amount of alcohol consumed, a safe level of consumption has not been determined.
Mixing Alcohol with other Drugs
Mixing alcohol with any other drug, including prescription medication, can be dangerous. Combining alcohol with other drugs can make the effects of these other drugs much stronger and more dangerous. Many accidental deaths have occurred after people have used alcohol combined with other drugs.
Cannabis, tranquillizers, barbiturates and other sleeping pills, or antihistamines (in cold, cough, and allergy remedies) should not be taken with alcohol.
Mixing alcohol with sedative drugs (e.g. sleeping pills, heroin, marijuana) can:
- make it harder to think clearly
- make it harder to control movement
- stop breathing and cause death.
Tolerance and Dependence
Anyone can develop a 'tolerance' to alcohol. Tolerance means more alcohol must be consumed to experience the same effects.
'Dependence' on alcohol means that it it is all consuming on thinking, emotions and activities. Not all people who drink are dependent.
People who are dependent on alcohol find it very difficult to stop or reduce drinking. This is because of withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms include:
- hallucinations (seeing or hearing things)
- poor appetite
- tremors (the "shakes")
- sometimes death.
Getting alcohol out of your body, takes time. About 10% of alcohol leaves the body through breath, sweat and urine, but is mostly broken down by the liver. However, the liver can only get rid of about one standard drink per hour and you can still be over the legal limit even hours after drinking.
There are a few basic procedures follow in situations dealing with drunken behavior:
- before approaching the person discuss your intentions staying calm, without ridiculing or threatening the person
- the person should be kept still and comfortable, but must not be left on his/her own
- food, drink or medication should not be given to avoid stomach distress
- keep a close eye if the person is sleeping, placing them on their side to avoid death from choking on vomiting
Seek medical attention if:
- the person is unconscious and does not respond
- breathing is irregular and/or shallow
- other drugs have been used with alcohol
- skin is pale or clammy
- vomit contains blood
Alcohol and Driving
About one-third of all road deaths are caused by alcohol. There are laws to limit the amount a person can drink before driving. These laws primarily affect:
- L- and P-plate drivers
- drivers under 25 for the first three years of driving
- drivers of heavy vehicles, such as trucks
- drivers of public passenger vehicles, such as buses
- drivers of dangerous goods vehicles, such as vehicles transporting chemicals etc.
Some people seem to go over the limit easier and will reach higher BAC more quickly, including:
- unhealthy or unfit people people who have not eaten
- smaller framed 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 to avoid drinking at all if driving. If you drink more the penalties associated with drink driving are serious and as well as losing your licence a jail sentence may also be incurred.