Street names: Grog, booze, goon, plonk, piss, bevvies.
What is alcohol?
Alcohol is a depressant drug that slows down the messages between the brain and the body. Alcohol is so common in Australian culture that many people do not see it as a drug, but in 2018–19 it accounted for 36 per cent of drug treatment episodes in Australia. That makes it the most commonly treated drug in Australia according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Alcohol is a fermented substance that causes 'drunkenness', a state of intoxication associated with happiness and relaxation at low levels but can increase anxiety, depression and aggression at higher levels.
Appearance and use
Alcohol is found in many common beverages, including:
- spirits, and
Alcoholic drinks are legal and widely available in bottle shops, pubs, bars and restaurants to anyone over the age of 18 in Australia. Minors may also access and consume alcohol illicitly.
Why is alcohol addictive?
No single factor is sufficient for understanding why somebody may experience alcohol addiction.
- Neurological: Drinking alcohol releases the endorphins in the body, making individuals feel good. A study of the brains of people who self-identify as heavy drinkers suggests that they may have initially released more endorphins in response to alcohol than people who drink moderately. The increased pleasure may cause cravings that prompt the individual to drink more despite diminishing rewards and eventually become physically dependent on alcohol.
- Social norms: the use of alcohol is connected with occasional and recreational events in Australia, and heavy drinking may be seen as ‘normal’.
- Genetic: Research shows that specific genes may put individuals at a higher risk of experiencing problems related to alcohol use.
- Long-term alcohol use: Somebody who drinks heavily for an extended time may eventually find that they rely on drinking and experience symptoms of withdrawal if they do not drink regularly.
Effects of alcohol
The effects of alcohol are diverse and can be dependent on your personal physical and emotional characteristics in addition to the frequency and concentration of use.
What are the short-term effects?
- feeling relaxed
- trouble concentrating
- slower reaction
- increased confidence
- feeling happier or sadder, depending on your mood.
What are the effects of binge-drinking or overdose?
- blurred vision
- memory loss
- nausea, vomiting
- passing out
What are the hangover symptoms?
- diarrhoea and nausea
- tiredness and trembling
- increased heart rate and blood pressure
- dry mouth
- trouble concentrating
- poor or decreased sleep
What are the long-term effects?
- difficulty getting an erection
- poor memory and brain damage
- difficulty having children
- liver disease
- high blood pressure and heart disease
- needing to drink more to get the same effect
- the physical alcohol dependence.
What risks are associated with alcohol?
Alcohol can cause or contribute to many different problems, including (but not limited to):
- complications from diabetes
- sexual problems
- birth defects such as Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
- high blood pressure
- bone density loss
- vision problems
- increased risk of cancer
- suppressed immune function
- heart disease
- alcohol-related brain impairment (ARBI)
- liver disease
- mental health issues including hallucinations and psychosis
- social withdrawals.
Is it risky to mix with other drugs?
Mixing alcohol with other drugs can lead to dangerous and unpredictable effects. Alcohol may increase the risk of unintentional death by overdose when used in combination with prescription or illicit drugs including benzodiazepines such as Valium, or opioids including heroin and prescription pain medication.
While alcohol is legal across Australia, there are still legal considerations to take into account.
- In some states, it is illegal to drink alcohol in public places such as beaches, parks and streets.
- Public intoxication is also legally prohibited in some areas.
- People under 18 years cannot buy, receive or drink alcohol unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.
- It is illegal to drive or operate heavy machinery under the influence of alcohol.
- Licensed establishments are legally responsible for ensuring the safety of their employees and customers and typically require staff to obtain an RSA to serve alcohol.
Penalties for breaking these laws can include fines, imprisonment and disqualification from driving and other privileges.
Giving up alcohol after drinking it for a long time can be challenging because the body has become conditioned to tolerate and even expect it. Your body needs to get used to functioning without it.
Withdrawal symptoms can start within a few hours after the last drink and can last for two to seven days. Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous or even deadly, it is essential to seek medical advice when considering reduction or cessation of significant use.
What are symptoms of withdrawal?
- anxiety, irritability, insomnia
- seizures or fits
- delusions and hallucinations
Where can I get help with withdrawal?
There are services such as residential detox to help you medically supervise the withdrawal process. To find one that is right for you, contact your GP or have a chat to one of our counsellors about your options.
At Counselling Online, we offer free, confidential 24/7 access to trained counsellors who can help you work through your goals and identify services to help you in your area. Have a chat to one of our counsellors if you’re not sure where you’d like to get started.
You can also connect with people who have experienced the impacts of alcohol use and have their own unique understanding on our peer support forums.
For further assistance, check out these services:
The National Alcohol and Other Drug Helpline: 1800 250 015
Peer support services:
- For clinicians: The Turning Point Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) Withdrawal Guidelines
- Alcohol & Drug Foundation Drug Facts: Alcohol
- Self-help tools and applications recommended by ReachOut