Alcohol is a depressant drug – not a stimulant as many people believe.
Depressants slow down activity in the central nervous system, including the brain. They affect concentration and coordination, and slow the response time to unexpected situations.
How is alcohol absorbed in the body?
Alcohol is absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the stomach and the small intestine.
That’s why the effects of an alcoholic drink may be felt very quickly. Food in the stomach slows down the rate at which the alcohol is absorbed, but it does not prevent intoxication or drunkenness.
All alcohol consumed will reach the bloodstream and cause a rise in the blood alcohol concentration (BAC), no matter how much food is in the stomach.
How does alcohol leave the body?
Reducing the BAC (sobering up) takes time. Alcohol is processed by the liver at a fixed rate, at approximately one standard drink an hour. The liver breaks down about 91% of the alcohol, and a small amount leaves the body in urine, sweat and breath.
Cold showers, exercise, black coffee, fresh air or vomiting will not speed up the “sobering up” process.
Someone who drinks a lot of alcohol at night may still have a high concentration of alcohol in their blood stream the following day.
Combining alcohol with any other drug (including over-the-counter or prescribed medications) can be unpleasant and dangerous. The effects of one drug may be greatly increased by the other.
Like alcohol, heroin and cannabis are also depressant drugs. Because of the effects on the central nervous system, it is particularly dangerous to combine alcohol with other depressant drugs, as this can cause the central nervous system to switch off brain and heart activity.
Seek medical advice about the effects of combining alcohol with any prescribed and over-the-counter medications.
Myths about alcohol
- Exercise, cold showers or drinking black coffee or water helps process alcohol more quickly
- Drinking milk stops you from getting drunk
- Mixing drinks makes you drunk more quickly (a standard drink is a standard drink)
- Beer is less intoxicating than spirits
- Regular drinkers are less affected than inexperienced drinkers
What is a standard drink?
A standard drink is any drink that contains approximately 10g of alcohol. One standard drink will increase your BAC by approximately 0.02%. Use the label on the can, bottle or cask to find out how many standard drinks are inside the container. The following is a quick guide to converting drinks to standard drinks: