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Effects of alcohol

You can be affected by alcohol from the very first drink. Alcohol intoxication (or being drunk) is when you start to show disturbance in how you think, feel, and behave. This can be mild to severe, depending on what and how much you have drunk.

Signs that can indicate that a person has had too much to drink include:

  • clumsiness
  • loss of balance or co-ordination, swaying or staggering
  • confusion, not hearing or responding to others
  • bumping into or knocking over furniture
  • dozing while sitting at a bar or table
  • spilling drinks
  • inappropriate sexual advances
  • aggression or arguing.

Alcohol misuse and abuse can lead to violence and unplanned sexual behaviour. Excessive alcohol consumption can put you in danger of becoming seriously injured due to impaired coordination and reaction times. More than one third of pedestrians killed on Queensland roads in 2016 had been drinking.

You also risk vomiting, dehydration, a hangover, or alcohol poisoning. At the very least, you could act in a way that's embarrassing or regretful.

There are 2 main patterns of drinking that pose a risk to a person's health:

  • excessive alcohol intake on a single occasion (often called binge drinking)
  • consistently high alcohol intake over time.

Short-term effects

Alcohol is a depressant. It slows down the messages going between the brain and the body, which can result in:

  • slowed reaction times
  • decreased inhibition
  • impaired memory, periods of memory loss or ‘blackouts’
  • problems with thinking and concentrating
  • slurred speech
  • blurry vision
  • difficulty with balancing
  • mood swings
  • slower heart rate and breathing.

Excessive drinking can result in:

  • injury and falls
  • violence
  • unprotected sex
  • accidental death.

Long-term effects

Repeated and regular high alcohol consumption can cause serious long-term health consequences, including:

  • liver disease
  • mouth, throat and oesophageal cancer
  • increased risk of bowel breast and liver cancer
  • heart and blood vessel illnesses
  • damage to muscles and bones
  • digestive disorders
  • alcohol dependence.

Social problems

As well as severely affecting your health, excessive alcohol consumption can result in:

  • family problems
  • financial problems
  • legal problems
  • violent behaviour
  • risk-taking
  • offensive behaviour or acts of vandalism
  • drink-driving, which may lead to fines, loss of licence, or imprisonment
  • work problems
  • sexual problems
  • accidents.

Pregnant women

Alcohol crosses the placenta to the growing baby and can affect your pregnancy.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause:

  • miscarriage
  • premature labour
  • small babies who get sick easily
  • slow growth and development
  • stillbirth.

Drinking alcohol during your pregnancy raises the risks of birth defects, learning difficulties and behaviour problems for your baby. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the term used to describe the range of effects that exposure to alcohol during pregnancy can have.

Read more about the effects of drinking in pregnancy.

Breastfeeding women

When you drink alcohol it enters your breast milk, and within 30 to 60 minutes your breast milk has the same blood alcohol level as you do.

During the first years of life, your baby’s brain is still developing at a very rapid rate. Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding can:

  • affect your baby’s brain development
  • change the smell of your breastmilk
  • reduce your supply of breastmilk
  • make your baby fussy or slow to feed
  • disturb your baby’s sleep patterns
  • make your baby drowsy
  • increase the risk of SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents.

If you are breastfeeding and you choose to drink alcohol, try to avoid alcohol in the first month after your baby is born, until breastfeeding is well-established.

After the first month:

  • limit alcohol intake to no more than 2 standard drinks a day
  • wait 2-3 hours before breastfeeding after you have drunk alcohol
  • consider expressing milk in advance.

Read more about the effects of drinking while breastfeeding.

Help and support

If you are concerned about your own or someone else's alcohol use and would like further information or help, contact one of the available addiction support services.

More information

Licence
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia (CC BY 3.0)
Last updated
17 November 2017
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