What is alcohol?

Alcohol is a drug that can be toxic and addictive. Find out how alcohol is made, how much is in your drink and why it can affect the way you think, feel and behave.

Alcohol in drinks

When we talk about alcohol, we usually mean the alcohol found in beer, wine and spirits. Alcohol is the ingredient in these drinks that makes you drunk.

The alcohol in drinks is called ethanol (ethyl alcohol). It is made when yeast ferments the sugars in grains, fruits and vegetables. For example, wine is made from the sugar in grapes and vodka is made from the sugar in potatoes.

Is alcohol a drug?

Yes, alcohol is a drug.

Like other drugs, alcohol affects the way your body works. It can also be toxic and addictive.

Drinking a small amount of alcohol can make you feel more relaxed or happy, but alcohol is actually a depressant. This means it:

  • slows down the messages that travel between your brain and your body
  • affects the way you think, feel and behave.

To reduce the effects of alcohol, it’s important to be aware of how much you’re drinking. To find out more, read about how alcohol affects you and how much alcohol is safe to drink.

How much alcohol is in your drink?

Some alcoholic drinks are stronger than others (have a higher concentration of alcohol).

In Australia:

  • beer contains 0.9% to 6% alcohol
  • wine contains 12% to 14%
  • fortified wines such as sherry and port contain 18% to 20%
  • spirits such as scotch, rum, vodka and bourbon contain 40% to 50%.

This means that for the same amount of drink, both wine and spirits will affect you faster than beer.

To keep track of how much alcohol you’re drinking, don’t count glasses or bottles. Count standard drinks instead.

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