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All about Alcohol

A Community Conversation brought to you by the Drug Education Network.
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Last Updated:
April 2022

The Conversation

Alcohol is our most widely used drug and an accepted part of our culture.

Most Australians drink alcohol for enjoyment, relaxation and sociability and at levels that cause few adverse effects. However, some people drink at levels that increase their risk of injury, disease and death; and sometimes, depending on circumstances, even a small amount of alcohol can be dangerous.

In this conversation, we talk about the important things to consider when drinking alcohol, and point you towards some excellent resources for information that we don't include here.

About Alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant drug: it slows down messages between the brain and the rest of the body. For an excellent overview of Alcohol, we recommend starting with Alcohol: Is it just a drink?

Screenshot of the "Alcohol... is it just a drink?" resource.

<center><a href="https://den.org.au/resources/#alcohol-just-drink" class="rich-btn orange">Find Alcohol... is it just a drink?</a></center>

Someone might drink alcohol many times without any obvious problems, while some people might drink alcohol only once and experience accidents or health problems. Just like medicines, alcohol should be used carefully if it is used at all: any drug can be harmful, and alcohol is no exception.

There are a few sets of circumstances where extra caution is recommended:

Young People

Young bodies and brains, especially those under 25 years, are more vulnerable to damage and negative effects. Young bodies are still growing and developing, and it is harder for a young body to defend itself against problems that an adult body finds easy to fix. In addition, growing is an important and complex process, and alcohol can interrupt and change how this process happens. Because of this, it’s important to delay the use of alcohol and other drugs as long as possible.

Two brightly lit beer mugs on a wooden table.

Young people often first come into contact with alcohol through their families, or at parties. Keeping them safe if they decide to experiment with alcohol is important for their wellbeing, and we have some resources to help with this: Party Rules is a guide for parents and guardians to help plan parties with their young people. There's also a resource for young people themselves: Party Safe is a simiple checklist that young people can use to take control of their own safety.

<center><a href="https://den.org.au/resources/#party-rules" class="rich-btn orange"> Find Party Rules: A guide for parents of young people</a></center>

<center><a href="https://den.org.au/resources/#party-hard-party-safe" class="rich-btn orange">Find Party Safe </a></center>

Pregnancy

Alcohol used in pregnancy can cause a condition known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD. This condition can cause a number of physical (body), cognitive (thinking) and emotional (feelings) effects on the baby.

<center><a href="https://www.nofasd.org.au/parents-carers-and-families/the-effects-of-fasd/" class="rich-btn orange"> Click here to read more about the effects of FASD. </a></center>

Research has come a long way in the past few decades, and current knowledge tells us that there is no safe level of alcohol during pregnancy: the current recommendation is that it is safest during pregnancy and breastfeeding to avoid alcohol altogether.

<center><a href="https://www.nofasd.org.au/alcohol-and-pregnancy/what-is-a-safe-amount-to-drink-while-pregnant/" class="rich-btn orange"> Read more about safe alcohol use during pregnancy. </a></center>

Brightly coloured illustrations of fruit, tea bags, rainbows and hearts around the text "Our healthy baby begins with us"

Although the recommendations are clear, it isn't always easy to avoid alcohol during pregnancy. It can be easier for pregnant couples to avoid alcohol together, and this may have some benefits for fertility as well. Friends and other family can also support pregnant couples to avoid pregnancy in a variety of ways: here are some ideas on some handy postcards.

<center><a href="https://den.org.au/resources/#healthypregnancy-postcards" class="rich-btn orange">View the postcards</a></center><p>

Medication

Many (if not most) people will need at least one medicine in their lifetime. Alcohol can interact with many types of medication, including over-the-counter medicine,  homeopathic remedies, and prescribed medication. Importantly, even small amounts of alcohol can interact with medicines: less than one standard drink mixed with some medicines can have a big effect.

Drinking alcohol when you’re taking a medicine could make that medicine less effective, or it could also cause uncomfortable or dangerous symptoms and side-effects. If you’re using a medicine for any reason, it’s important to check if alcohol is safe to drink on the days that you take it. Even medicines that don’t seem likely can mix badly with alcohol: laxatives, herbal remedies and more can react with alcohol. Those reactions can cause symptoms such as headaches, confusion, and drowsiness.

If you’re not sure if it is safe to drink while taking a medicine, a pharmacist can answer any questions. All prescribed medicines have an information leaflet that you can download or receive at a pharmacy. You can also check websites like NPS Medicinewise for medicine information and interactions with alcohol.

<center><a href="https://www.nps.org.au/" class="rich-btn orange"> Visit NPS Medicinewise </a></center>

Older People

Our relationship with alcohol changes as we age. Our eighteen-year-old body copes with drinking in a very different way to our forty-year-old body. And a seventy-year-old will find there are more complex factors that affect how the body processes alcohol.

As we age, the water content of our body decreases, our liver mass and blood flow to and from the liver decreases, and we are more likely to be using medications. These factors result in alcohol having a bigger impact on older people. That can lead to an unintended consequence for some older people: they get caught drink driving even though they are being careful about what they're drinking.

If you're looking for more information on how our bodies interact with alcohol as we age, take a look at Wiser and Older: Safer Drinking Throughout Life.

<center><a href="https://den.org.au/resources/#wiser-and-older" class="rich-btn orange">Find Wiser and Older</a></center><p>

Finding Help

If you or someone you love is seeking help for issues with alcohol, take a look at the Services and Helplines section. Most services that provide alcohol and other drug counselling or treatment are able to help with alcohol issues.

Other Names

Also Known As: Alcohol

Alcohol is any beverage containing Ethanol. It is one of the oldest known drugs and has been used by humans for centuries.

Alcohol is also known as:

Alcopops, Ale, Amber Fluid, Booze, Brew, Brewski, Bubbly, Champers, Cider, Cocktail, Cold One, Draft, Eye-opener, Firewater, Goon, Grog, Half-rack, Highball, Home Brew, Hooch, Juice, Jungle Juice, Lager, Liquid Courage, Liquid Gold, Mead, Moonshine, Nightcap, Oats Soda, Piss, Plonk, Poison, Rotgut, Sauce, Shooter, Sling, Spirits, Suds, Swill, Tipple, Tummy Buster, Turps, Vino, Wine

Heard of another slang term? Let us know by clicking 'Report an Issue'!

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Services and Helplines

References

‘Alcohol & Pregnancy – know the facts - NOFASD Australia’ (2018), https://www.nofasd.org.au/alcohol-and-pregnancy/what-is-a-safe-amount-to-drink-while-pregnant/.  

'What are the effects of FASD? | NOFASD Australia’ (2018), https://www.nofasd.org.au/alcohol-and-pregnancy/what-is-fasd/.  

Drug Education Network Inc. (2015) Party Rules: A Guide for Parents of Young People, 2nd edn, Drug Education Network Inc., Hobart, Tasmania, https://den.org.au/resources/#party-rules.  

Drug Education Network Inc. (2015) Wiser and Older: Safer Drinking Throughout Life, 2nd edn, Drug Education Network Inc., Hobart, Tasmania, https://den.org.au/resources/#wiser-and-older.  

Drug Education Network Inc. & Australian Lions Wellness Foundation (2019) ‘Alcohol... Is it just a drink?’, https://den.org.au/resources/#alcohol-just-drink.  

Drug Education Network Inc. (2017) Mocktails + Mastery, Drug Education Network Inc., Hobart, Tasmania, https://den.org.au/resources/#mocktails-mastery.  

National Health and Medical Research Council (n.d.) Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol, https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/australian-guidelines-reduce-health-risks-drinking-alcohol.