Alcohol (ethanol or ethyl alcohol) is an addictive toxin and intoxicant, found in beer, wine and spirits. An addictive substance means that you find it hard to stop taking it once you have started. Toxin means it is poisonous to the human body in large amounts. Intoxicant means it causes intoxication or an altered state.
People respond to alcohol in individual ways, and the same amount of alcohol consumed can have varying effects on different people. Learn more about alcohol and its effect on your body.
Alcohol can cause short-term and long-term harm to you and others.
Short-term alcohol-related risks include:
- accidents and injuries including vehicle collisions and falls
- poor decision making that can result in things like unprotected sex, leading to unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections
- alcohol poisoning, resulting in vomiting, passing out and hangovers
- blackouts and memory loss
- aggressive behaviour leading to violence, abuse, criminal offending or assault.
People who binge drink (drink heavily over a short period of time) are more likely to behave recklessly and are at greater risk of being in an accident.
Long-term alcohol-related risks include:
- increased risk of developing serious health conditions including heart disease, stroke, liver disease and pancreatitis, and certain cancers including mouth, throat, oesophageal, breast and colorectal. Alcohol is identified as a class 1 carcinogen (known to cause cancer) putting it in the same risk category as smoking and asbestos.
- substance use disorders, characterised in part by withdrawal symptoms and an increase in tolerance
- ongoing effects of alcohol-related accidents, injuries or assault
- family, whānau and relationship difficulties
- financial and/or employment and/or housing difficulties
- an increase in likelihood or worsening of mental health symptoms, especially related to anxiety and depression.