What is alcohol?
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:
*psychoactive (sy koh ak tive) - has an effect on mental processes
What are the effects of alcohol?
- depressed or aggressive
- problems with coordination and balance
- less able to make thoughtful decisions, poorer judgement
- 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 time with the intention of getting drunk is called binge drinking. Binge drinking is considered five or more drinks in one sitting for males and four or more drinks in one sitting for females. Binge drinking often leads to a number of physical effects, including:
- blackouts (memory loss)
- passing out
- injury (from having less physical control or from recklessness)
- alcohol poisoning
- health problems, like long-term liver damage
- worsening of previously diagnosed health conditions
- possible death
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning
- severe confusion
- blue colour to skin
- passing out repeatedly
- decrease in body temperature
If a person drinks 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.
- 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.
- problems sleeping, insomnia
- increased anxiety
- see things that aren't there (hallucinations)
A heavy, chronic user of alcohol should be medically supervised during withdrawal because of possible seizure and other serious and deadly complications.