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Alcohol, or ethanol, is the most commonly used recreational drug in the world due to its legal status in most countries. This allows for labelling of alcoholic products by a percentage alcohol by volume, which allows the person drinking it to know how strong their drink is. This drug makes people feel happy and it clearly acts as a social lubricant in many occasions. It is often an accompaniment to meals or to celebrations. Alcohol has been consumed for thousands of years and it is now totally integrated in most countries. However, it is one of the most harmful drugs for society and individuals1.
Drink some water after each drink. You will reduce the chances of overdrinking and getting hangovers!
If you are mixing with another substance, make sure its not a dangerous combination.
Always practice safe sex; take a condom with you.
Here are the most common effects of alcohol. You won’t necessarily experience all these effects, every time you consume the drug, and it is possible that you may feel other effects not listed here.
The effects are (from positive to negative):
- Increased sociability
- Slurred speech
- Flushed skin
- Blurry, distorted vision
- Higher impulsivity
- Decreased coordination
- Nausea, vomiting (vomiting while unconscious can kill! If a friend is unconscious due to alcohol, position the person in the recovery position)
- Reduced ability to judge own impairment
- Emotional volatility (anger, violence, sadness, etc)
- Sexual dysfunctions (e.g. erectile dysfunction or difficulty reaching orgasms)
- Dizziness and confusion
- Blackouts and memory loss at high doses
Dose and onset
How? How Much? When? For how Long?
As with any drug, the correct dose for you depends on factors such as weight, gender, metabolism, whether you have taken the drug recently or not, amongst many others. Read our Dosing and Tolerance section in Me for more information.
How you take it matters...
The most common method to alcohol consumption is oral, which we recommend as it is the best way to gauge how much you've had. Recently new trends, such as inhaling, have appeared but these are ill-understood and can be very dangerous. If you want to learn more about how the method of administration affects you, read our Me section.
Alcohol is metabolised relatively quickly, however, it is more difficult for the body to get rid of the toxins with increasing alcohol dosages. Therefore, we suggest to limiting your alcohol doses if you want to be on the safe side!
People are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week. Spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week.
What is a unit in the UK?
Take this quiz on Quizmeter to compare how much you drink to others like you.
When do the effects kick in?
- Total duration: 1.5 - 3 hrs
- Onset: 15 - 30 mins
- Coming up: 15 - 20 mins
- Plateau: 30 - 90 mins
- Coming down: 45 - 60 mins
- Carry condoms.
- Eat before you drink and stay hydrated; it can reduce the chances of getting a hangover or accidentally drinking over your limit.
- Don’t go out drinking alone, this will increase the chance of unpleasant experiences, unsafe circumstances, and risky behaviour.
- Avoid drinking out of impulse because of reaction to anger, this can lead to bad drinking episodes.
- To control for diseases such as cancer, the best policy is to reduce the amount of alcohol that is taken. You can do this by counting the drinks you have in a day and set targets to reduce them.
- Don’t drink and drive. As easy as it sounds, people still do it, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths per year.
- Control the amount of drinks you have and the speed at which you drink them if you are susceptible to blackouts.
- Avoid getting drinks spiked with other drugs by following simple steps.
In an emergency or overdose
- Stay calm and try to not look anxious in front of the person that needs help. Before approaching or touching the person, explain what you intend to do in a direct and reassuring manner.
- Keep the person still and comfortable. Don't let him/her walk alone.
- Do not administer any food, drink or medication --including aspirin or vitamins --which may cause stomach distress.
- Do not ridicule or threaten the person.
- Do not let the person sleep on his/her back. Death from choking on inhaled vomit may result. Place the person on his/her side, with one arm extended above the head. Keep a sober person nearby to watch for signs of trouble.
Important: Remember, only time will help to sober a person who is intoxicated. Walking, black coffee or a cold shower will not help. Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, and reduce the hangover.
Seek medical attention if:
- The person is unconscious and cannot be wakened
- Breathing is irregular and/or shallow
- You suspect alcohol has been mixed with other drugs
- Skin is clammy or pale
- Blood in vomit
Alcohol hangovers are considered to be worse than the day-after effects of nearly any other drug. Alcohol causes liver damage. Bad hangovers may indicate alcohol toxicity and should be avoided.
Occasional drinkers are more likely to get bad hangovers than regular ones.
They usually last for 1-36 hours.
The after effects include:
- Bad mood
- Nausea, vomiting, and/or dry-heaves
- Dizziness that becomes worse with movement
- Loud noises and bright lights cause pain/discomfort
- Inability to think clearly
- Muscle fatigue and pain
- Sweating and tremors
The best way to reduce hangover effects is to drink water before, during and after the night. However, this will not completely remove it as it isn't just caused by dehydration.
Regarding vitamin B supplements, there is no evidence that these actually ‘cure’ hangovers, although they may work as a placebo.
Signs of dependence
Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is an incredibly addictive drug. If you think you might be dependent on alcohol, these websites might be useful:
In the long term...
Due to its legal status, alcohol consumers wrongly classify the drug as ‘safe’, as it has been approved for consumption. The truth is that due to a drug safety measure (active dose/lethal dose), we know that alcohol is actually one of the most dangerous recreational drugs. Why? This concept compares how much you have to drink to get drunk to how much you have to drink to die, and alcohol has the highest level.