Most people say they drink because it makes them feel relaxed, confident and sociable. This is because alcohol is a depressant which slows down the brain and nervous system, reducing feelings of anxiety and shyness.
You can find out more about the effects of alcohol on the Talk to Frank website (opens an external link).
Other people say they drink to escape from personal problems, but this may be stopping them from finding a real answer to their issues – eventually long-term alcohol abuse may become another problem.
Effects of alcohol
Drinking too much over a short period of time is known as binge drinking and can have these negative effects:
- hangovers making you feel sick, tired, dehydrated and depressed.
- doing things you’ll regret, like behaving aggressively or having unprotected sex
- addiction - relying on alcohol and feeling bad without it.
- serious illnesses like liver damage, stomach cancer and heart disease.
How much is too much?
Alcoholic drinks have different strengths, measured in units. One unit is about the amount of alcohol in half a pint of beer, lager or cider. It’s also equal to a single measure of vodka or whiskey.
Visit the Drinkaware website for the latest alcohol unit guidelines
If you find someone who is alone, very drunk and having difficulty staying awake, don’t leave them - lie them on their side so they don’t choke if they vomit.
Mixing and tolerance
Tolerance means your body’s resistance to alcohol – people who drink a lot might have more tolerance than people who don’t – so the effects of alcohol can be greater in people who drink less.
Mixing alcohol with other drugs like painkillers can be very unsafe, as you don’t know how your body will react. Taking a drug like a depressant with alcohol (also a depressant) can slow down your brain and body functions to dangerous levels.
Are you allowed to drink alcohol?
It isn’t against the law to drink alcohol, unlike drugs – but it can still affect your health like other drugs, and be just as addictive.
Your age means that there are different laws around if you can buy or drink alcohol:
overdosing - this could put you in a coma or even kill you.
- up to 14: illegal to drink or buy alcohol, except under medical supervision in an emergency
- 5 to 14: you can only go into a pub if it’s got a children’s certificate – and only to designated areas
- 14 and 15: you can go anywhere in a pub, but you can’t buy or drink alcohol anywhere
- 16 and 17: you can only buy and drink beer or cider with a meal in an eating area of a pub
- 18 and over: you can buy alcohol anywhere
There are lots of different types of drugs.
There are three main types; depressants, hallucinogens and stimulants. These have different effects on your body and brain.
These slow down your thinking and can affect your heart rate and breathing. They can produce feelings of warmth and relaxation. Depressant drugs, like alcohol and heroin, work in much the same way on mood and personality. However, the repeated use of such drugs over an extended period of time can cause the body to become reliant and tolerance to be increased. More and more of the drug has to be taken in order to get the desired effect. In building tolerance to the effects of a drug, the user may be taking the first steps on the road to physical drug dependence.
Examples of depressant drugs are Alcohol, Tranquillisers, Heroin and the Opiates.
Hallucinogenic drugs, like LSD, and certain 'magic' mushrooms, affect those areas of the brain which control sensory perception and thought patterns. They do this by altering the way in which the messages are received and interpreted. The change in mood or personality brought about by hallucinogenic drugs is more likely to be influenced by the set and setting of the drug used.
These drugs have the opposite effect of speeding up mental activity and physical functions, producing feelings of excitement and confidence. Stimulants raise blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration and reduce the desire to eat. After the effects wear off people may feel tired, hungry and depressed.
Examples of stimulant drugs are Nicotine , Caffeine, Cocaine and Amphetamines .
Drug, set and setting
How these effects show themselves and how the drug feels to the individual is the result of a complex interaction between the properties of the substance itself (drug), the individual’s mood, experience and expectations (set), and the environment within which the drug is taken (setting).
In addition to these 3 broad categories, each particular drug has its own specific effects and risks.
Some drugs are quite new and their harms may not yet be fully known such as New Psychoactive Substances/Legal Highs. Sometimes drugs don’t contain what you think they do.
There are also performance and image enhancing drugs that claim to improve the physical training and a person’s physical appearance, sometimes used by body builders - steroids.
Most people don’t use drugs and even amongst those that do, emergencies are rare. But no one can be certain how drugs will affect them so there’s always the risk that they’ll have a bad time, fall ill, and hurt themselves or even worse. Here’s what you need to know should you ever have to help a friend or relative who’s having a bad reaction to a drug.
Talk to Frank Emergency Help (opens an external website)
Want to know more about a drug, their effects and the law?
Frank has compiled an A-Z of drugs. Here you can find out all its different names, the effects it has, the risks involved and what the law says.
Frank A- Z of drugs (opens an external website)