Alcohol

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  • drink
  • goon
  • juice
  • liquor
  • piss
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What is alcohol?

Alcohol is a drug that acts as a depressant and slows down the brain and nervous system. It is the most widely used drug in Australia.

What is a standard drink? Learn how many standard drinks are in common glasses by using the Standard Drink Calculator.

Download the Alcohol Fact Sheet or watch the Respect Your Brain videos for more information.

Learn more
Alcohol
Alcohol

Ethanol

(C2H6O)

Drinking a small amount is not harmful for most people, but excessive drinking on any one occasion can cause health, personal and social problems.

Immediate effects can include

  • relax / feel good
  • feel dizzy / have bad balance
  • bad co-ordination
  • react slowly

Effects depend on...

​The effects of alcohol depends on how much you drink, how quickly you drink it, your size and weight, and whether you are male or female.

It can also depend on how good your general health is, how healthy your liver is, where you drink, whether you drink alone, whether you use alcohol with other drugs including medications and if there is a family history of alcohol and other drug dependence.

  • do or say things you normally wouldn't
  • blurred vision
  • get angry
  • depressed
  • vomit
  • slur your words

How alcohol affects your body

Tap a body part to learn more of the effects alcohol places on your body.

Long term effects can include

  • depression
  • frequent infections
  • diabetes
  • memory loss/confusion
  • poor diet
  • relationship problems
  • work problems
  • money or legal troubles
  • dependence

General information

Is alcohol a problem for you?

Anyone drinking regularly can develop a tolerance to alcohol. Tolerance means that you must drink more to feel the same effects you used to have with lower amounts.

The way you choose to stop is a personal one but there is assistance available.

See full support list
  • Whether you are having issues with alcohol or other drugs, are concerned about someone else’s alcohol or other drug use, or just have general questions about alcohol or other drugs, you can call ADIS any time of the day or week for support, information, counselling and referral to services in NSW.

    ADIS Web Chat is also available from Monday to Friday 8.30am – 5pm (including public holidays).

    24 hour support line

    1800 250 015

    More about Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) NSW
  • The COVID-19 pandemic continues to change lives in many different ways, to support the community we have developed a range of alcohol and other drug specific resources to help you with accessing services and support you with any stress and anxiety you may be experiencing. We will continue to update this page as new resources and information becomes available.

    For general updates, advice and facts visit COVID-19 (coronavirus) and follow NSW Health on Facebook and Twitter.

    Contact the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) for up-to-date information about
    service availability in your area during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ADIS helpline is open 24/7 on 1800 250 015 or via Web Chat Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5:00pm.

    You can also contact the Family Drug Support (FDS) 24/7 helpline on 1300 368 186 for drug and alcohol issues, or access online support via the FDS We hear you - Families matter during COVID 19 page.

    On this page

    1. Impact on alcohol and other drug services
    2. Managing your use of alcohol and other drugs
    3. Looking after your mental and physical health
    4. Safety and wellbeing

    Impact on alcohol and other drug services

    As the COVID-19 pandemic develops, NSW Health is working with local health districts, non-government organisation (NGO), alcohol and other drug (AOD) services and community pharmacies to ensure continuity of service. For full details visit Guidance for AOD Services about COVID-19 on the NSW Health website. For information on access to free naloxone (opioid overdose reversing medicine), visit 'Take home naloxone – a key component in COVID-19 preparedness'.

    Visit the Opioid Treatment Program page for information on the program and FAQs for OTP patients during the COVID-19 pandemic (PDF), which includes answers to questions such as: Will I be able to continue to get my opioid treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic? What are my rights when negotiating my treatment during this time? I am required to self-isolate or have COVID-19 and cannot leave my house, how do I get my dose?

    People who test positive for COVID-19 and are currently undergoing treatment for alcohol and other drug dependence can continue with their program. Talk to your service provider to discuss your treatment in the event you test positive.

    Watch Dr Anthony Gill, Chief Addiction Medicine Specialist, NSW Health on advice for service providers. 

    Managing your use of alcohol and other drugs

    NSW Health have launched the new free smartphone app, Drinks Meter. The app is a useful tool in this time of social distancing and isolation as it provides you with an opportunity to manage your alcohol consumption in times of stress and anxiety.

    The Get Healthy Service Alcohol Reduction Program is also available for people who want to reduce their alcohol consumption to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and a healthier lifestyle. The Alcohol Reduction Program is open to anyone aged 18 years and over.

    NUAA, the NSW Users and AIDS Association, have published a new fact sheet on COVID-19 and Harm Reduction. The fact sheet provides advice and information on protecting your health while using drugs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Also read ACON helping to reduce COVID-19 drug and alcohol harm, for information and harm reduction advice regarding alcohol and crystal (methamphetamine) use. Written and designed by ACON, Australia's leading community-based organisation specialising in HIV and LGBTQ health.

    Looking after your mental and physical health

    In this time of unprecedented concern about our collective health and livelihoods, it is more important than ever to remain socially connected and physically healthy. For more advice and tips to keep healthy read Maintaining happiness amid global anxiety and Soothing COVID-19 isolation anxiety.

    Safety and wellbeing

    There is no excuse for violence and abuse. This includes during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you or someone you care about is experiencing domestic and family violence there are services available to provide support.

    If you or anyone else is in immediate danger, please call Police on 000 (triple zero).

    You can contact 1800 RESPECT online or by phone on 1800 737 732 for confidential information, support and counselling. Women can also contact the NSW Domestic Violence Line on 1800 65 64 63 for support, counselling and referral to ongoing support.

    If you are worried about your own behaviour and use of violence, you can visit the NSW Government's Communities & Justice webpage for information or contact the Men's Referral Service online or by phone on 1300 766 491.

    Please note: in a situation where rescue breathing and chest compressions maybe required please refer to the Australian Resuscitation Council for NSW Health recommended advice during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

    For further information please visit the NSW Government's COVID-19 Mental health and safety webpage.

    More about COVID-19 Support
  • The Alcohol & Drug Information Service (ADIS) Web Chat is a live online conversation with a professional counsellor. The service is free, confidential and open to anyone affected by alcohol and other drugs, including people concerned about their own use, or about a family member or friend. Web chat is only available for people living in NSW.

    The service is provided by ADIS at St Vincent's Hospital, in partnership with the NSW Ministry of Health.

    What to expect

    • A counsellor will chat with you about your alcohol or other drug concerns
    • A counsellor can provide a referral or contact information for relevant alcohol and drug services in NSW

    To start a web chat counselling session read and accept the 'Terms and Conditions of Use' below.

    Alternatively, if you would like to speak to a drug and alcohol counsellor over the phone, please call the National Alcohol and Other Drug helpline on 1800 250 015 which will direct you to your state service. The helpline is available 24/7 for anonymous and confidential support.

    Emergency Assistance

    Call Emergency Services on 000 if you:

    • require urgent medical attention or 
    • are in immediate danger or 
    • are at risk of harming yourself or someone else.

    Monday to Friday 8.30am – 5pm (including public holidays)

    #;Web Chat

    More about ADIS Web Chat
  • Your Service Hub is an online directory of alcohol and other drugs support, health and welfare services. If you need support for your own or someone else's substance use, you should use terms in Find Services like:

    • drug and alcohol family support

    • drug and alcohol Aboriginal services 

    • drug counselling

    • drug and alcohol rehabilitation

    • drug and alcohol residential treatment

    along with your suburb name to narrow the search to services near you.

    Not sure what service you need? Call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service on 1800 250 015.

    More about Your Service Hub
  • Drinks Meter is a user-friendly app for your phone or tablet that provides confidential, personalised feedback about your alcohol use based on advice from doctors and the Australian guidelines to reduce health related risks from alcohol. 

    Drinks Meter is:

    • Free to download
    • Allows you to easily enter alcoholic drinks you have had in the past 7 days
    • Adds up your weekly spend on alcohol
    • Shows what you've been drinking in equivalent standard drinks
    • Shows what you've been drinking in kilojoules/calories you've consumed and the equivalent to foods like cheeseburgers or chocolate bars
    • Shows you how your drinking compares with national alcohol guidelines and other users of Drinks Meter
    • Personalises your feedback adjusted to risk factors based on family and medical history (e.g. BMI, prescription medication, mental illness and addiction)
    • Has tools to help you cut down your drinking, like weekly goal setting and a drinking diary
    • Includes an interactive pouring tool to help you understand how much is a standard drink

    Get started by downloading the Drinks Meter app through your app store.

    app-store.png google-play.png

    Drinks Meter screenshots




    App available for iPhone and Android

    Drinks Meter

    More about Drinks Meter app
  • ​The Get Healthy Service Alcohol Program is a free telephone-based coaching service designed to support you to make healthy lifestyle changes and reduce your alcohol consumption.

    The Get Healthy Service offers up to 10 coaching calls to support you to achieve a healthy weight, eat healthier, increase your levels of physical activity and reduce your alcohol consumption by making small simple changes to your lifestyle.

    If you are, or know someone who is worried about their level of alcohol consumption then the alcohol reduction program is highly recommended. Our health coach will assess the risk of drinking and provide support and motivation needed to help you reach your health goal. The program uses the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), an internationally validated screening tool to screen for alcohol risk.

    What's included?

    You will receive 10 free coaching sessions with their own personal health coach and a book containing information about appropriate alcohol intake, an alcohol facts booklet and an alcohol journey book to help keep participants motivated and record their progress.

    How to Enrol

    The NSW Get Healthy Service is available Mon – Fri 8am – 8pm. To enrol simply call 1300 806 258 or register online at www.gethealthynsw.com.au to start your get healthy journey.

    Learn more about how the Get Healthy Service can help you.

    Monday to Friday 8am – 8pm

    1300 806 258

    More about Get Healthy Coaching Service
  • Adolescence and emerging adulthood are periods of significant brain growth and development. Scientists call the adolescent brain highly 'neuroplastic' because it is a time of organising, construction and strengthening of connections in the brain.3 different light globe animated characters

    1. Respect Your Brain animated series
    2. How do drugs affect the developing brain?
    3. Areas of the brain in development
    4. Alcohol and the developing brain
    5. Cannabis and the developing brain
    6. MDMA and the developing brain
    7. Getting help for drug and alcohol issues

    Animated series

    The Respect Your Brain animated video series focuses on the impact of three drugs commonly used in Australia and explores the way these drugs affect a young person’s developing brain.


    How do drugs affect the developing brain?

    Because the brain is highly neuroplastic during brain development (teens up to 25 years of age) there is the risk of damage.

    The way a drug effects a person depends on which part of the brain it targets. Some drugs have far reaching effects, for example alcohol can reach three areas of the brain where important functions occur, whilst other drugs may be more localised and specific, for example MDMA is attracted to the limbic system and binds strongly to areas such as the hypothalamus. Often, it’s the amount of the drug taken (dose) that influences the risk of harm to the brain. Because we are all different, the effects can vary from person to person and be more harmful for some.


    Areas of the brain in development

    There are three significant areas where brain function occurs, they are:


    Brain_Back-350.png


    Hindbrain (pons, cerebellum and medulla oblongata), which is responsible for balance and coordination and basic automatic functions like breathing and heart rate.
    Brain_Mid-350.png
    Subcortical midbrain (limbic system), which is responsible for our animal instincts, like our 'pleasure centre,' our flight or fight response and memory storage. It's also the home of the hypothalamus, which enables us to maintain internal balance and physical wellbeing despite changes or outside factors.
    Brain_Front-350.png
    Forebrain (cerebral cortex, including prefrontal cortex), which is responsible for our complex, high level thinking, like planning for the future and regulating our emotions.


    Alcohol and the developing brain

    Alcohol is a depressant which is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. It can affect the brain within five minutes of consumption (absorption may be slower if the person has recently eaten).

    Drinking, particularly heavy drinking, at any time before, during and after brain development, can have a negative effect on the way the brain works.

    Early alcohol use may interrupt cell growth in the frontal lobe of the brain, an area which does not reach full maturity until a person reaches their mid-twenties. The frontal lobe of the brain controls higher mental processes such as planning. Drinking alcohol interferes with brain development and harms can include poor attention, poor decision making and disrupts the ability to forward plan – impacting on mental health and educational performance and completion.

    Little is known about whether excessive alcohol consumption in teenage years leads to permanent changes to the brain. However, there is evidence that excessive drinking (more than 4 standard drinks on a single occasion) can lead to young people taking risks and putting themselves in dangerous situations, such as drink driving and having unsafe sex.


    Cannabis and the developing brain

    Cannabis acts as a central nervous system depressant that also alters sensory perception.

    THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) is the active ingredient in cannabis which is responsible for the mood-altering effects which can make people feel high. Synthetic cannabis functions in a similar way to THC.

    Cannabis can affect memory and attention, which can interfere with your ability to take in and remember new information. This can affect everyday life, particularly when learning something new or doing something difficult.

    Using cannabis regularly when you are young and your body is still developing increases your body's exposure to the harms associated with cannabis use, such as a higher risk of respiratory illness.

    Cannabis use can affect mental processing and if cannabis is used heavily over many years, persistent problems with memory, attention and the ability to handle complex information may be experienced.

    Early and heavy cannabis use may affect your choices and options in life, leading to impact on social and physical wellbeing (Cannabis Facts for Young People. National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre, October 2011).


    MDMA and the developing brain

    Methylene DioxyMethAmphetamine (MDMA) – also called ecstasy – is a derivative of amphetamine and has both stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. Stimulants speed up the central nervous system and brain, and hallucinogens can cause people to see, hear, feel or smell things that do not exist.

    The effects of MDMA can start within an hour and typically last up to about six hours. Some effects may continue for up to 32 hours.

    MDMA affects your brain by increasing the activity of neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers of brain cells): serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

    Serotonin regulates mood, sleep, pain, appetite, and other behaviours. MDMA causes mood-elevating effects by releasing large amounts of serotonin. This release depletes the brain's supply of serotonin and some people can feel down or anxious the day after taking MDMA. Known as the 'come down', this may include sleep problems, feeling depressed and finding it hard to concentrate and can last for several days.

    MDMA may cause an increase in body temperature (hyperthermia) and dehydration. A body temperature of 40 degrees Celsius or higher is life-threatening. Some symptoms of over-heating include confusion, nausea or vomiting and rapid breathing.  MDMA can also cause fluid retention and water intoxication, which can also be life threatening.

    Mixing MDMA with alcohol or other drugs is also dangerous, mixing drugs can cause people to feel unwell and put their health and life in danger. Some drug interactions are of particular concern, they are:

    • MDMA and some of painkillers or antidepressants can lead to serotonin toxicity which can be fatal
    • MDMA, methamphetamine (ice and speed) and cocaine are all stimulants so if either drug are taken together the effects can be very unpleasant or lead to an overdose
    • MDMA with alcohol raises blood pressure and body temperature and increases the chance of dehydration and confusion, which could lead to taking more MDMA and the increased risk of overdose

    If someone shows the following signs of MDMA / ecstasy overdose an ambulance should be called immediately on Triple Zero (000).

    • Feeling really hot / overheating
    • Rigid muscles, tremors or spasms
    • Clenched jaw
    • Confusion or disorientation
    • Difficulty walking
    • Severe agitation or panic
    • Having difficulty breathing
    • Fast racing pulse / heart
    • Vomiting
    • Seizure
    • Unconsciousness


    Getting help for drug and alcohol issues

    There are lots of services that young people can call or chat with online if they have concerns about themselves of others, including their family. All of the following services are free and confidential (unless there is a risk of harm to them or someone else) and can be accessed anonymously.

    Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS)
    ADIS is 24 hours 7 days a week free, confidential and anonymous telephone service, providing counselling, support, referrals and information for those affected by alcohol or other drugs.

    ADIS also provides Web Chat which is free, anonymous and confidential for people with concerns about alcohol or other drug use. Web Chat is available Monday to Friday 8.30am – 5pm (including public holidays).
    T: 1800 250 015

    Family Drug Support (FDS)
    FDS provides 24 hours 7 days a week free telephone support line for families and friends affected by alcohol and drug use.
    T: 1300 368 186

    Kids Helpline
    The Kids Helpline is a free, private, and confidential 24 hours, 7 days a week telephone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25.
    T: 1800 55 1800

    ReachOut
    ReachOut is Australia's leading online mental health organisation for young people and their parents. They have a supportive, safe and anonymous forum space where people care about what's happening to you, because they've been there too.

    Lifeline
    Lifeline is a 24-hours 7 days a week free crisis support and suicide prevention service.
    T: 131 114


    More information

    Check out the A-Z of Drugs for more information.



    More about Drugs and the developing brain
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