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What are the effects of alcohol?

Alcohol affects everyone. How it affects you depends on how much you drink, your health, your age and other factors. Drinking too much can lead to harmful short-term and long-term effects. It can affect your physical and mental health, your job, your finances, your family and your community.

It’s different for each person

How alcohol affects you can depend on a range of factors, including your:

  • gender
  • mental and physical health
  • medical conditions
  • use of other drugs and medications

Alcohol can affect you more quickly if you:

  • drink on an empty stomach
  • have a lower tolerance to alcohol
  • have a lower percentage of fat and muscle on your body
  • are a young person
  • weigh less
  • don’t usually drink alcohol

What happens in your body

As you drink alcohol, it:

  • passes into your blood through the walls of the stomach and small intestine
  • travels to all parts of the body including the brain
  • slows down your brain and affects almost all parts your body
  • affects the way you think, feel and behave

Alcohol only takes a few minutes to reach the brain in an average, healthy person.

Your liver removes most of the alcohol in your body by breaking it down.

Blood alcohol levels

As you drink, the level of alcohol in your blood rises.

The level of alcohol in your blood is called blood alcohol concentration (BAC). A BAC of 0.01 means there is 1g of alcohol in 100ml of your blood.

In an average, healthy person, one standard drink:

  • increases BAC by about 0.02
  • takes about one hour to break down

But remember, this can be different for everyone.

BAC is what police test for in roadside alcohol breath tests. If you're a fully licensed driver, you're breaking the law in Australia if you drive with a BAC over 0.05.

How long alcohol stays in your blood

Drinking more than one standard drink per hour will increase your BAC. The faster you drink, the higher your BAC.

When you stop drinking, your BAC will keep rising as the alcohol in your stomach goes into your blood.

The only way to lower your BAC is time. The more drinks you have, the more time you need.

You cannot remove alcohol from your blood by vomiting, having a cold shower or drinking coffee.

Short-term effects

Drinking alcohol can affect your body straight away. A healthy person is likely to experience the following:

  • BAC of up to 0.05:
    • feeling of wellbeing
    • talkative, relaxed and more confident
  • BAC of 0.05 to 0.08:
    • impaired judgement and movement
    • reduced inhibitions
  • BAC of 0.08 to 0.15:
    • slurred speech
    • impaired balance, coordination, vision and reflexes
    • unstable emotions
    • nausea and vomiting
  • BAC of 0.15 to 0.30:
    • unable to walk without help
    • sleepy
    • difficulty breathing
    • memory loss
    • loss of bladder control
    • possible loss of consciousness
  • BAC of over 0.30:
    • coma
    • death

In the short term, drinking too much alcohol can also lead to:

  • accidental injury (to yourself or others)
  • being in a road accident
  • deliberately harming yourself or others
  • unprotected or unwanted sex
  • alcohol poisoning
  • hangovers

Binge drinking (drinking a lot of alcohol in one session or a short period) can be even more harmful and risky.

Long-term effects

Drinking more than 2 standard drinks a day can seriously affect your health over your lifetime.

Long-term effects include:

If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or planning a pregnancy, drinking any amount of alcohol can harm your fetus (unborn baby) or newborn.

Social and financial problems

Alcohol can reduce your inhibitions and lead you to behave in a way you normally wouldn’t. You may commit a crime, behave in an antisocial way or do something embarrassing.

Your behaviour could affect your friendships, your work and your family.

If you drink a lot or become dependent on alcohol, you could end up spending a lot of money on your drinking.

For more about how alcohol can affect you, read alcohol and your life.

Taking alcohol with other drugs

Drinking alcohol at the same time as taking other drugs, including medicine, can be very risky. This is because alcohol can:

  • increase the side effects of other drugs
  • reduce the effect of medicine such as antibiotics or diabetes medicine
  • hide the effect of a drug or medicine

Find out more about the dangers of mixing drugs and alcohol and medications.

Reducing the effects

To reduce the effects of your drinking:

Last updated: 
26 February 2019
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