The drug alcohol, chemically known as ethanol, has a long history dating back to ancient civilisations. Its use as a psychoactive substance has been documented across various cultures and time periods. The discovery of alcohol can be traced back to the fermentation of fruits and grains, leading to the production of alcoholic beverages.
How you might feel
Alcohol consumption can lead to relaxation, lowered inhibitions, and altered mood. As consumption increases, effects progress to euphoria, impaired coordination, and altered perception of time.
Effects on your body
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, affecting brain regions and neurotransmitters. Short-term effects include impaired coordination, blurred vision, and memory impairments. Long-term risks involve liver damage, cardiovascular diseases, and increased cancer risk.
How long it takes to work
Alcohol typically takes around 30 minutes to an hour to take effect, as it’s absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine.
How long the effects last
Alcohol’s effects last a few hours, gradually declining as the body metabolizes the alcohol.
Excessive consumption can lead to alcohol poisoning, liver damage, cardiovascular issues, and addiction.
The drug alcohol, chemically known as ethanol, has a long history dating back to ancient civilisations. Its use as a psychoactive substance has been documented across various cultures and time periods. The discovery of alcohol can be traced back to the fermentation of fruits and grains, leading to the production of alcoholic beverages. Throughout history, alcohol has played a significant role in religious rituals, social gatherings, and medicinal practices.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that exerts its effects on various regions of the brain. When consumed, it interacts with neurotransmitters, primarily enhancing the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, which has a soothing effect. The effects of alcohol vary depending on the amount consumed, the individual’s tolerance, and other factors.
Short-term effects of alcohol consumption include relaxation, decreased inhibitions, impaired coordination, and altered judgement. It can also lead to slurred speech, blurred vision, and memory impairments. Excessive alcohol consumption can result in alcohol poisoning, characterised by vomiting, confusion, slow or irregular breathing, and even unconsciousness.
Long-term alcohol misuse can have serious health implications. Chronic alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of liver damage, cardiovascular diseases, and various types of cancer, including liver, breast, and oesophageal cancer.1 It can also contribute to the development of alcohol use disorder, a chronic condition characterised by the inability to control alcohol consumption despite its negative consequences.2
It’s worth noting that socioeconomic factors can play a role in alcohol outcomes. Individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may be at a higher risk of experiencing negative consequences related to alcohol misuse.3
In conclusion, alcohol is a widely used psychoactive substance with a complex history and a range of effects on the body and brain. While moderate alcohol consumption may have certain social and cultural benefits, excessive and chronic alcohol misuse can lead to serious health issues and alcohol use disorder.
How it looks, tastes and smells
Alcohol beverages exhibit diverse appearances based on their type and production methods. Beer, for instance, appears as a carbonated and frothy liquid, with colour variations spanning from pale gold to deep amber.4 Wine manifests in a spectrum of hues, from light whites to deep reds, each with distinct shade and transparency.5 Spirits, such as whisky and vodka, are usually clear and may differ in terms of clarity.6
The taste of alcohol is intricately shaped by numerous factors, including its category, crafting techniques, and constituents. Beers encompass a wide palate, ranging from bitter to sweet, hinging on the combination of hops and malt during brewing. The taste of wine is notably influenced by grape variety, terroir, and ageing process, resulting in red wines with hints of dark fruits and white wines with notes of citrus or florals. 5 Spirits boast distinctive and pronounced flavours; whisky, for instance, carries smoky, woody, and caramel undertones, while vodka is renowned for its neutral taste.4
The aroma holds pivotal importance in the appreciation of alcohol. Beers may emanate aromas encompassing hops, malt, and sometimes fruit or spices.4 Wines present a bouquet of scents, often characterised by fruity, floral, or earthy fragrances, which contribute significantly to their sensory allure.6 Spirits, including gin and rum, can exhibit captivating aromas, with gin often featuring botanical notes and rum exuding hints of vanilla.5
People consume alcohol through various methods, often depending on the type of alcoholic beverage. Common methods include drinking beer, wine, and spirits. Beer and wine are typically ingested orally, while spirits like whisky and vodka can be consumed straight or mixed into cocktails.7
The effects of alcohol can vary significantly based on the dosage consumed. Dosage ranges are typically reported in milligrams of ethanol per unit volume of blood (mg/dL).
- Minimum to Feel Something: The minimum dosage required to perceive the effects of alcohol can vary based on individual tolerance and factors such as body weight and metabolism. Typically, even small amounts of alcohol, such as a single standard drink, can lead to noticeable effects like relaxation and altered mood.4
- Low Dose: A low dose of alcohol can result in mild intoxication and a sense of relaxation. This might correspond to blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels of around 0.02-0.05 mg/dL, which can occur after consuming a small glass of wine or half a pint of beer.7
- Common Dose: The common dose of alcohol varies based on factors such as individual tolerance, body weight, and metabolism. Typically, a common dose corresponds to blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels ranging from approximately 0.06 to 0.1 mg/dL. This level of intoxication might be achieved by consuming a couple of drinks in a relatively short period.4 Users can experience a more pronounced sense of euphoria, impaired judgement, and altered perception of time within this range. It’s important to note that individual responses to alcohol can vary, and consuming even a common dose can impair coordination and cognitive abilities.
- High Dose: A high dose of alcohol, characterized by BAC levels exceeding 0.15 mg/dL, can lead to severe intoxication, impaired judgement, and potentially dangerous effects such as blackouts and alcohol poisoning. This level of intoxication can be reached through the consumption of multiple drinks in a short span.7
Exceeding the High Dose and Potential Effects:
When exceeding the high dose of alcohol consumption, individuals are at a higher risk of experiencing severe intoxication, leading to pronounced effects such as impaired coordination, slurred speech, memory blackouts, and even alcohol poisoning.4
How you might feel
Initially, users might experience a sense of relaxation and lowered inhibitions. As consumption continues, effects can progress to euphoria, impaired judgement, and altered perception of time.
How long it takes to work
After consumption, alcohol typically takes around 30 minutes to an hour to take effect as it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine.4
How long the effects last
The duration of alcohol’s effects varies depending on factors such as the amount consumed and individual metabolism. Generally, the effects can last for a few hours, during which users might experience a gradual decline in intoxication as the body metabolizes the alcohol.4
Excessive alcohol consumption carries a range of risks, including alcohol poisoning, which can lead to severe symptoms like confusion, vomiting, seizures, and even coma.7 Long-term risks include liver damage, cardiovascular issues, and an increased susceptibility to accidents due to impaired coordination.
Alcohol has addictive properties, and repeated excessive consumption can lead to the development of alcohol use disorder (AUD). Individuals with AUD struggle to control their alcohol consumption despite negative consequences. This condition can lead to physical and psychological dependence, making it challenging for individuals to quit or cut down on drinking.8
The Law in the UK
In the United Kingdom, alcohol is not classified as a controlled substance. It is legally available to adults and regulated under specific laws and regulations related to its sale, consumption, and distribution. The legal drinking age in the UK is 18 for purchasing alcohol in licensed premises.7 However, there are restrictions on the sale of alcohol to individuals under 18 and rules regarding the times and places where alcohol can be sold.
Alcohol can interact with various drugs, including prescription medications and recreational substances. Combining alcohol with certain medications can result in dangerous interactions and adverse effects on health. For example, mixing alcohol with sedatives or opioids can amplify the depressant effects, leading to respiratory depression or even overdose.4
In summary, exceeding the high dose of alcohol consumption can lead to severe intoxication and potential health risks. The onset of alcohol’s effects varies but generally occurs within an hour of consumption, leading to relaxation and euphoria. The effects last a few hours, and excessive consumption carries risks of overdose, addiction, and interactions with other substances.
- National Cancer Institute. (2018). Alcohol and Cancer Risk. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/alcohol/alcohol-fact-sheet.)
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. Available at: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics.)
- Collins, S.E. (2016). Associations Between Socioeconomic Factors and Alcohol Outcomes. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 38(1), 83-94. Available at: https://www.arcr.niaaa.nih.gov/arcr381/article08.htm.)
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). Alcohol’s Effects on the Body. Available at: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body.)
- World Health Organization. (2018). Global status report on alcohol and health. Available at: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241565639.)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Alcohol and Public Health. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/index.htm.)
- National Health Service. (2018). Alcohol misuse. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-misuse/.)
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). Alcohol Use Disorder. Available at: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders.)
What people ask
Alcohol, chemically known as ethanol, is a psychoactive substance found in various alcoholic beverages. It can be consumed by drinking beer, wine, or spirits.
Short-term effects of alcohol include relaxation, lowered inhibitions, impaired coordination, and altered judgement. It can also lead to slurred speech, blurred vision, and memory impairments.
Chronic alcohol misuse can result in liver damage, cardiovascular diseases, and an increased risk of various types of cancer. It can also lead to the development of alcohol use disorder and contribute to accidents due to impaired coordination.
Alcohol is addictive and can lead to the development of alcohol use disorder. Individuals with alcohol use disorder may struggle to control their drinking despite negative consequences, leading to physical and psychological dependence.
Alcohol can interact dangerously with various drugs, including prescription medications and recreational substances. Combining alcohol with certain medications can result in amplified depressant effects and adverse health outcomes.
Alcohol is not classified as a controlled substance in the UK. It is legally available to adults and regulated under specific laws and regulations governing its sale, consumption, and distribution.
Alcohol typically takes around 30 minutes to an hour to take effect as it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine.
If you suspect someone has consumed an excessive amount of alcohol and is showing signs of alcohol poisoning, such as confusion, vomiting, seizures, or unconsciousness, seek medical help immediately.
Yes, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to alcohol poisoning, which is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition. Symptoms include confusion, vomiting, slow or irregular breathing, and unconsciousness.
Low to moderate alcohol consumption may have certain social and cultural benefits. However, even small amounts of alcohol carry risks, and individuals are encouraged to be mindful of their consumption and its potential effects on their health.