What is alcohol?
Alcohol, or ethyl alcohol as it is rightly known, is colourless, tasteless and dissolves easily in water. It is a sedative hypnotic drug, which means it slows down or depresses the working of our central nervous system including the brain.
What types of alcohol are there?
Alcoholic drinks come as three main types, beer, wine and spirits. The colour of these different drinks comes from the ingredients used to make them, like grain (beer and whiskey) and fruit (wine and cider).
How will drinking alcohol affect me?
Alcohol affects different people differently. And this is because alcohol is so water-soluble (dissolves easily in water). Our bodies are mostly fluid so bigger bodies have more fluid to dilute the alcohol. This is why females who are generally smaller and lighter tend to become intoxicated (drunk) more quickly than males and also why young adolescents are more rapidly affected than adults.
Why does alcohol change behaviour?
Alcohol slows reactions and affects coordination.
It confuses the messages sent to the brain so it affects judgement.
As alcohol is a sedative drug it slows down the brain's processes and can lead to memory loss and learning ability is affected.
It can lead to emotions such as anger and frustration which may lead to violent actions.
How does your body process alcohol?
Alcohol is processed by the liver. The liver is only able to process the amount of alcohol in one standard drink each hour. Drinking faster results in a level of intoxication related to the amount of alcohol consumed. Having a cold shower or drinking cups of black coffee does not change the amount of alcohol in the blood stream. Only time will do that.
Can having a drink affect your unborn child?
Alcohol abuse by pregnant women can be associated with abnormalities in the development of the growing baby.
Why does alcohol affect behaviour?
As alcohol passes straight into the blood stream and then to the brain, it affects behaviour immediately. Although at first the drinker appears relaxed and confident, the apparent confidence disguises the loss of coordination and slowed reactions. When drinking is continued emotional depression may result. The effects of alcohol on behaviour are increased if alcohol is used together with other drugs such as sedatives and tranquilisers.
How big is a standard drink?
One 90 ml glass of wine
One 200 ml glass of beer
One 20 ml single spirit
How do I drink safely?
- Limit the amount you drink, one glass an hour is a good guide, but know when to stop.
- Eat something before you drink and while you are drinking
- Count your drinks, go and talk to people, dance.
- Switch to soft drinks before you feel intoxicated.
- Don't let other people make you drink if you don't want to.
- Say "no" or just leave your drink.
- Don't drink and drive.
Who can you contact for help?
Alcohol and Drug Helpline
0800 787 797 New Zealand only
0800 229 6757 New Zealand only
Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit