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Alcohol is one of the most commonly used psychoactive drugs in the UK. The alcohol found in alcoholic drinks is ethanol, and different drinks have different alcoholic strengths. The strength of a drink (alcohol by volume or ABV) will be displayed on its label – this is the law. Labels will usually also display how many units a drink contains.
How it is taken
Alcohol is most commonly consumed in the form of alcoholic drinks like beer, wine and spirits.
Different drinks contain different concentrations of alcohol. For example, spirits have the highest concentration (typically 30%-40%). Wine or lager is lower (typically 13.5%). This is why spirits are usually drunk in smaller measures.
Ready-made drinks and ‘alcopops’ are often consumed in the same way as cans of beer or cider, but may contain more alcohol.
Alcohol affects our bodies in a number of different ways. Because it’s a depressant, it slows your heart rate and breathing, making you feel more relaxed and outgoing and creating a sense of euphoria and increased confidence.
Whilst alcohol can improve mood in this way, other effects include drowsiness, confusion and nausea. You may also experience temporary memory loss in the form of blackouts and reduced inhibitions, which can impair judgement. If used regularly or to excess, alcohol can lead to dependency.
Because alcohol affects the chemicals in your brain responsible for mood, sleep and appetite, it can leave you feeling anxious for hours or days after drinking, negatively impacting your mental health and overall wellbeing.
Alcohol affects our hormones too. Oestrogen and Testosterone levels can affect how drunk someone feels and women may feel the effects of alcohol differently at different times in their menstrual cycle. Body size can also be a factor.
For more on the effects of alcohol, visit: drinkaware.co.uk
Hangovers, including dehydration, headache, nausea, sensitivity to noise and bright lights, and depression. Intoxication can lead to aggressive/irrational behaviour and accidents.
Regular heavy drinking can cause stomach disorders, cancer of the mouth and throat, increased risk of stroke, liver cirrhosis, brain damage (including memory problems), high blood pressure, problems with the nervous system, changes in physical appearance (e.g. weight gain, thread veins and purple, bulbous ‘drinkers nose’), sexual and mental health problems, and family and work problems.
For more on the risk factors, visit nhs.uk
It is illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under 18 years old. Also, if you drive or attempt to drive while unfit due to alcohol consumption (being unfit means having a Blood Alcohol Concentration of over 80mg per 100ml), you face an automatic disqualification (‘driving ban’), a large fine and the possibility of a prison sentence.