Health effects of alcohol
What is alcohol?
Alcohol is the ingredient in drinks like beer, wine and spirits that makes you drunk.
The alcohol in drinks is called ethanol (ethyl alcohol). It is made when yeast ferments the sugars in grains, fruits and vegetables. For example, wine is made from the sugar in grapes and vodka is made from the sugar in potatoes.
Is alcohol a drug?
Yes, alcohol is a drug.
Alcohol affects the way your body works. It can be toxic and addictive.
Alcohol is actually a depressant. This means it:
- slows down the messages that travel between your brain and your body
- affects the way you think, feel and behave.
To reduce the effects of alcohol, it’s important to be aware of how much you’re drinking.
It’s never completely safe to drink.
How much you drink is your choice, but you should know that drinking is never free of risk. The less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol.
Guidelines to reduce your risk
To reduce your risk when you drink alcohol, follow the Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. These guidelines are based on scientific research and evidence.
These guidelines have been recently reviewed by the National Health and Medical Research Council. The proposed new draft guidelines state if you’re a healthy adult:
- To reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.
Long-term effects of alcohol consumption above Guideline recommendations include:
- mental health issues such as increased risk of suicide
- substance abuse — you may become dependent or addicted to alcohol, especially if you have depression or anxiety, or a family history of alcohol dependence
- increased risk of diabetes and weight gain
- impotence and other problems with sexual performance
- cancers such as stomach cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer, mouth cancer, throat cancer, oesophageal cancer and liver cancer
- fertility issues such as reduced sperm count and reduced testosterone levels in men
- brain damage and brain-related conditions such as stroke and dementia
- heart issues such as high blood pressure, heart damage and heart attacks
- cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure.
If you’re pregnant, or planning a pregnancy, you should not drink alcohol. If you are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for your baby.
Reducing your drinking
To reduce the effects of your drinking: