What is alcohol?
Alcohol is the most widely used recreational drug in Australia. Statistics show that 90% of the Australian population aged 14 years or over have tried or used alcohol at some time during their life.
Many people who drink alcohol are not aware of what alcohol is. Alcohol is a mood-changing legal drug. The active drug in all alcoholic drinks is ethanol. This drug is produced as a result of the fermentation of grains (beer or whisky), fruits (wine or cider) and vegetables such as potatoes (vodka) changing sugars into ethyl alcohol.
Alcohol is often mistakenly believed to be a stimulant. This is because drinking a small amount of alcohol may initially reduce tension or inhibitions, making one feel more relaxed or excited.
In fact, alcohol is a depressant drug that acts to slow down the central nervous system and inhibits many of the brain’s functions, affecting almost all the body’s cells and systems. Increasing alcohol levels in the body slows down a person’s reflexes and rapidly makes judgement, co-ordination and balance more difficult.
The short-term effects of alcohol only take a few minutes to reach the brain. It is absorbed directly into the blood stream through the walls of the stomach and small intestine, and is then quickly distributed to all parts of the body, including the brain. Food in the stomach slows down the rate at which alcohol is absorbed but does not prevent intoxication or drunkenness, as all the alcohol a person drinks reaches the blood stream.
Sobering up takes time and depends on how the liver metabolises alcohol. The liver is the main organ of the body responsible for removing alcohol from the blood stream. The liver processes alcohol at a fixed rate, taking about an hour to break down the alcohol in a standard alcoholic drink. Drinking coffee or other caffeine-containing drinks, vomiting or having a cold shower will not influence the rate at which alcohol is removed from the body.
How many Australians have used alcohol?
Most adult Australians have drunk alcohol at some time in their life. According to the most recent research, almost 90% of the Australian population have ever tried alcohol, with more than 82% of the population stating that they had used alcohol in the last 12 months.
Although we do appear to have some problems with young people drinking in a dangerous way, 20-25% of 16 and 17 year old secondary school students in Australia describe themselves as non-drinkers. Many more young people drink occasionally and do not necessarily drink to get drunk.