Alcohol is the most common psychoactive* substance in Canada.  It is made from grain, fruit or vegetables that are fermented and then used in beer, wine or liquor (vodka, rum, gin, etc.).  Alcohol is also used in other things like mouthwash and hand sanitizer.  Some people drink them to try to get intoxicated.

Alcohol is a "downer" or depressant.  It slows down the central nervous system and makes a person think, talk, and move at a slower pace.  The effect alcohol has on a person depends on their size, gender, ethnicity, drinking experience, mood, and the environment it is used in.  Usually, your body can process about one drink an hour.  If you consume more, then you begin to become intoxicated (drunk).

The amount of alcohol in "one standard drink" is:

  • 12 ounces of beer (at 5% alcohol content)
  • 5 ounces of wine (at 12% alcohol content)
  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (at 40% alcohol content)

*psychoactive (sy koh ak tive) - has an effect on mental processes

Short Term Effects

  • Relaxed

  • Drowsy

  • Dizzy

  • Depressed or aggressive

  • Problems with coordination and balance

  • Less able to make thoughtful decisions, poorer judgment

  • Slower reaction time

  • Less inhibited (may say or do things you otherwise wouldn't)

  • Hangover (beginning 8 - 12 hours after drinking stops) including headache, shakiness, possible short term memory loss (blackouts)

  • Alcohol poisoning or overdose is possible.  Drinking a lot of alcohol in a short period of time - binge drinking - can cause alcohol poisoning.  If you drink a lot of alcohol very quickly, it can be fatal.  After a person passes out, the alcohol that is in the stomach continues to be absorbed into the blood stream.  If too much alcohol enters the bloodstream, it may cause breathing and heart rate to slow down and eventually stop.  Sometimes people who have been drinking vomit in their sleep and then choke to death.  Binge drinking is considered five or more drinks in one sitting for males and four or more drinks in one sitting for females.

Long Term Effects

  • Damage to the liver, heart and brain

  • Diseases of the stomach and pancreas

  • Cancer of the mouth, throat and esophagus

  • High blood pressure

  • Low red blood cell count (Anemia)

  • Weaker immune system

  • Muscle weakness

  • Studies show that only one drink a day has beneficial effects for adults.  These effects have not been shown for children or youth.

Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Problems sleeping, insomnia

  • Jumpy

  • Sweating

  • Tremors

  • See things that aren't there (hallucinations)

  • Convulsions

A heavy, chronic user of alcohol should be medically supervised during withdrawal because of possible serious and deadly complications.

See Also: 
Learn about Alcohol (Here to Help)
A fact sheet on what alcohol is, why people drink alcohol, and how/when its use becomes problematic.
Alcohol Reality Check
A lot of people wonder if they drink too much and if their drinking habits are unhealthy or put them at risk of harm or becoming dependent. This simple test from CARBC helps you figure it out.
A Safe Night Out (Here to Help)
By making informed decisions about where you’re going to go, and by paying attention to your surroundings after you get there, you can minimize the risk of alcohol-related harms to yourself and your friends.
Making healthier choices about substance use (Here to Help)
As a general rule, substance use is a problem when it negatively affects our life or the lives of others. But change is always possible, whether that change means reducing current use or quitting altogether. These resources provide tips for making healthier choices about substance use.

BC Children's Hospital

This is an agency of Provincial Health Services Authority, providing provincial tertiary mental health services to the citizens of British Columbia. Programs include: Adult Tertiary Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Women’s Reproductive Mental Health, as well as the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for children and youth located at the BC Children’s Hospital.

Provincial Health Services Authority

Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) is one of six health authorities – the other five health authorities serve geographic regions of BC.

Ministry of Health

British Columbia Ministry of Health

RBC Children's Mental Health Project

RBC Children’s Mental Health Project is RBC's cornerstone “health and wellness” pillar; RBC Children’s Mental Heath Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues.

BC Children's Hospital Foundation

Through a wide range of fundraising events and opportunities, The BC Children's Hospital Foundation is united with its donors by a single, simple passion - to improve the health and the lives of the young people who enter BC Children's Hospital every day.