liquor, booze, juice
Alcohol is a depressant drug that is legal in Canada. Depressant drugs slow down the parts of your brain that affect your thinking, behaviour, breathing and heart rate. For this reason, it should be consumed moderately.
Alcohol is produced by fermenting or distilling various fruits, vegetables or grains. Fermented beverages include beer and wine, which have a maximum alcohol content of about 15 per cent. Distilled beverages, often called “hard liquor” or “spirits,” such as rum, whisky and vodka, have a higher alcohol content.
Although alcohol comes in different forms, it has the same effect. In the following table, each “standard” drink contains 13.6 grams of alcohol.
* Note that regular beers have an average alcohol content of five per cent, but some have as much as six or seven per cent, making them stronger than a “standard” drink. “Light” beers have an average alcohol content of about four per cent.
** such as sherry, port or vermouth
Pure (ethyl) alcohol is a clear, colourless liquid. Alcoholic beverages get their distinctive colours from their ingredients and from the process of fermentation.
According to the Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey, 22.7 million (77 per cent) of Canadians reported having an alcoholic drink in 2015. More men (11.8 million, or 81 per cent) than women (10.9 million, or 73 per cent) reported alcohol use.
In 2015, young adults aged 20 to 24 had the highest rate of alcohol use (83 per cent). In addition, alcohol use was reported by 59 per cent of youth aged 15 to 19, and 78 per cent of adults aged 25 and older.
The way alcohol affects you depends on many factors, including:
For many people, a single drink of alcohol releases tension and reduces inhibition, making them feel more at ease and outgoing. Some people feel happy or excited when they drink, while others become depressed or hostile. Suicide and violent crimes often involve alcohol.
Women are generally more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than men, and all adults become increasingly sensitive to alcohol’s effects as they age. When someone is more sensitive, it takes less alcohol to cause intoxication and more time for the body to eliminate the alcohol consumed.
Early signs of alcohol intoxication include:
Continued drinking increases these effects and causes other effects, such as:
A severely intoxicated person may “black out,” and have no memory of what was said or done while drinking. Effects of extreme intoxication include inability to stand, vomiting, stupor, coma and death.
Death may result when a person “passes out,” vomits and chokes. A person who has been drinking heavily and is unconscious should be laid on his or her side and watched closely. Clammy skin, low body temperature, slow and laboured breathing and incontinence are signs of acute alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal. Call 911 if you're concerned.
It takes about one hour for the liver of a person weighing 70 kilograms (154 lbs.) to process and eliminate eight to 10 grams of alcohol, or about two-thirds of the alcohol contained in a standard drink (i.e., 13.6 grams of alcohol). This rate is constant, no matter how much alcohol has been consumed or what food or non-alcoholic beverages are consumed.
Drinking heavily usually results in a “hangover,” beginning eight to 12 hours after the last drink. A hangover is caused in part by acetaldehyde, a toxic chemical that is created as alcohol is processed by your liver. Other causes include dehydration and changes in hormone levels. Symptoms can include:
Most alcohol-related illnesses, social problems, accidents and deaths are caused by “problem drinking.” This term describes alcohol use that causes problems in a person’s life, but does not include physical dependence, one indicator of addiction. Problem drinking is four times as common as severe alcohol dependence.
Physical dependence involves tolerance to alcohol’s effects, which means people need more alcohol to produce the desired effect. Physical dependence also includes withdrawal symptoms when regular alcohol use is abruptly stopped.
Withdrawal symptoms can include sleeplessness, tremors, nausea and seizures within a few hours after a person's last drink. These symptoms can last from two to seven days and range from mild to severe, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed and the period of time over which it was used. Some people experience delirium tremens, or “the DTs,” five to six days after they stop drinking. This dangerous syndrome consists of hallucinations, confusion, fever and racing heart. If left untreated, severe alcohol withdrawal can result in death.
Alcohol can be dangerous in a number of ways.
The impact of alcohol’s effect on judgment, behaviour, attitude and reflexes can range from embarrassment, to unwanted or high-risk sexual contact, to violence, injury or death. Alcohol is involved in more regrettable moments, crimes and traffic fatalities than all other drugs of abuse combined.
Women who drink during pregnancy risk giving birth to a baby with behaviour problems, growth deficiency, developmental disability, head and facial deformities, joint and limb abnormalities and heart defects. The risk of bearing a child with these birth defects increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. The first trimester may be the time of greatest risk, although there is no time during pregnancy when it is known to be safe to drink alcohol.
Mixing alcohol with other drugs can have unpredictable results. Alcohol may either block the absorption of the other drug, making it less effective, or it may increase the effect of the other drug, to the point of danger. The general rule is never to mix alcohol with any other drugs—whether the other drug is a medication or an illegal substance. If you are taking a medication and you want to drink, check first with your doctor or pharmacist.
How alcohol affects you in the long term depends on how much and how often you drink.
Research studies have shown that:
Heavy alcohol use can result in trouble getting and keeping an erection for men or menstrual irregularities for women. Alcohol may cause appetite loss, vitamin deficiencies and infections. It also irritates the lining of the stomach, which can be painful and is potentially fatal. Alcohol increases the risk of liver, throat, breast and other cancers. Alcoholic liver disease is a major cause of illness and death in North America.
Psychologically, long-term use of alcohol can damage the brain, which can lead to dementia, difficulties with co-ordination and motor control, and loss of feeling or painful burning in the feet. Alcohol dependence often results in clinical depression, and the rate of suicide among people who are dependent on alcohol is six times that of the general population.
Do You Know. . . Alcohol © 2012 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Visit our COVID-19 resource hub for tools to help you find a path forward.
Keep your finger on our pulse – latest CAMH news, discoveries and ways to get involved delivered to your inbox.
Please select a newsletter
Please complete the following:
We look forward to keeping you informed, inspired and involved in all things CAMH.
We’re working toward a future where no one has to lose their life to suicide. Your donation will help us get there.