Alcohol, as you probably know, is a drug that’s legal here and in most other parts of the world.
The legal drinking age in Ireland is 18 years-old, but it varies from country to country (something to keep in mind so you don’t get in to hot water if you’re travelling).
To be honest, we know that drinking alcohol is a central part of many cultures and ours especially.
Having a drink to celebrate or have fun with your friends can be grand once you’re sensible about it.
But, some reasons for drinking aren’t so healthy, like boredom, or to forget about your problems, or to keep up with your mates.
Sometimes the way we drink isn’t so healthy either. It’s something to think about.
The point of this section isn’t to be preachy. There’s nothing worse than young people being lectured about things older people do all the time.
Instead, this is about giving you information about what the effects of alcohol are so you can make good decisions about it.
It’s also to let you know what to do if alcohol is becoming a problem for you or someone you know.
The effects of alcohol
The effects of alcohol vary from person to person. Some of the factors that influence how someone might be affected by alcohol include:
- how much they’ve had to drink, and the strength of what they’re drinking (three beers produces a different affect to three vodkas)
- how quickly they have drunk the alcohol (this can make a big difference, ‘knocking it back’ isn’t the best plan)
- whether they’ve eaten
- whether they’ve taken any other drugs
- how regularly they drink in general
- their mood when they are drinking
- their age, sex and body weight
- if they’ve been binge-drinking (binge drinking means drinking heavily over a short period of time or drinking constantly over a number of days or weeks.)
In other words, you need to get to know your own limits. Remind yourself if you’re tired or you haven’t eaten, you’ll be more effected by a drink than you’d intended.
Know your limits
The Ask About Alcohol website recommends the following drink limitations.
Recommended limits for guys:
Up to 17 standard drinks per week is considered a low health-risk for most men. That works out as no more than four standard drinks a day on average, with an occasional maximum of six. (Remember that a pint counts as more than one drink here.)
There should always be at least two days a week when you don’t drink.
Recommended limits for girls:
Up to 11 standard drinks a week is considered a low health-risk for most women. This would be no more than two standard drinks a day on average, with an occasional maximum of four standard drinks.
Again, you need to make sure there’s at least two days that are alcohol-free.
What’s a standard drink?
A standard drink has 10 grams of pure alcohol. Knowing how many standard drinks you’re having may help you in managing your alcohol use. Different types of alcoholic drinks contain different amounts of pure alcohol. The following are examples of standard drinks:
- 285ml glass of beer
- 100ml glass of table wine (a small glass – this is generally not the size you get in pubs)
- 30ml of spirits (one shot).
The general guidelines are that men shouldn’t regularly drink more than three to four units of alcohol per day, and women shouldn’t regularly drink more than two to three units of alcohol per day.
Your body gets rid of about one standard drink per hour. Remember, alcohol is not always served as standard drinks.
For more information about standard drinks check out Ask About Alcohol.
Some of the basic effects of alcohol include:
- feeling more confident
- feeling sleepy
- losing balance or feeling dizzy.
Some of the negative effects you should be prepared for:
- Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it slows the time it takes to respond to things. It can affect your coordination (spilling your drink much?) and, on a serious note, your judgment. So you have to be really careful you don’t put yourself in a dangerous situation where you might not react the way you would normally
- Drinking too much or more than you’re used to can make you vomit or pass out (not a good look)
- Alcohol can increase people’s likelihood of getting aggressive or violent. Violence is really not OK, so if you’re getting violent when you drink then you need to look at cutting down or managing your drinking better. If you’re around someone who is being aggressive because of alcohol, keep your cool and keep your distance.
Alcohol can also have serious long-term effects on your health if you drink too much and too often.
Some of these effects include liver damage, hallucinations, memory loss and stomach damage. Definitely things to avoid.
Drinking too much can also cause you to feel moody or anxious, which can cause problems with your friends and tension at home.
Mixing your drinks
Beer plus wine plus vodka plus that bottle of blue stuff you found in the back of the press often means throwing up on someone’s couch, so it’s best avoided.
Mixing different drinks also increases the speed at which you get drunk and it might mean you take more risks. Be sensible about it – if it feels like a bad idea, it probably is.
Mixing alcohol with stimulant drugs like ecstasy can be dangerous. The effects of alcohol may be hidden by the effects of the stimulant, which can cause you to feel less drunk than you are. You might take more risks and put yourself in danger.
Drinking and pregnancy
Drinking when you’re pregnant is not recommended, as alcohol can have unsafe and even long-term effects on your baby.
Your doctor can give you more information about pregnancy and the effects of alcohol. Have a look at taking care of yourself when you’re pregnant.
How to drink sensibly (and not make an eejit of yourself):
- Don’t mix alcohol and drugs – see drugs for more
- Eat before your drink, while you drink and after you drink. Eat eat eat to absorb alcohol
- Finish each drink rather than topping it up midway. Then you know how many you’ve had
- Know your limits – what’s grand for others may not be grand for you
- You can always alternate between alcoholic drinks and something non-alcoholic
- Just don’t drink and drive, or operate heavy machinery. You’re not as in control, and therefore more in danger
- Stay with people you know and trust
- Don’t drink and go swimming, it’s stupidly dangerous
- Carry condoms – the effects of alcohol may make you more relaxed and you might be more likely to have sex without thinking about the consequences. If you’re having sex, use a condom to keep yourself safe from STIs and prevent unwanted pregnancy.
As we’ve said, drinking in moderation can be grand and most of us do it. But, we also know that sometimes things get out of hand.
It can be hard to realise your drinking has become a problem, or to notice that a friend is drinking too much, because it’s so socially acceptable.
Here are some signs you should keep an eye out for:
- Neglecting school work/college assignments/skipping work
- Getting into trouble at school/work/home
- Feeling hungover in the mornings more than every now and then
- Thinking about drinking a lot during the day
- Feeling very edgy for no apparent reason
- Regularly drinking more than you meant to
- Finding you have to drink more to get the same effect as you used to.
Make a list of all the “good” and “less good” things about drinking and work out how much money you spend on alcohol each week.
If you’re not happy with the result you may need to manage your drinking a bit better.
If you’re worried about your drinking
Managing how much you drink can be difficult, especially when social life here is so centred around going to the pub.
If you’re worried about how much you’re drinking, what you’re like when you drink or if you can’t seem to stop, talk to someone about it.
Loads of people are in a similar situation, so there’s a lot of advice out there and nothing to feel ashamed of.
Talk to a friend, a family member, doctor or a counsellor. Your GP is often a good place to start, or if you’re in college, the student’s union welfare officer will be able to help.
Phone numbers and websites
- Drugs and Alcohol Awareness Programme – DAP provides live helper-interactive services, telephone & mobile help-line services and various other online services for drug and alcohol issues. Visit www.drugs.ie or call 01 8360911. You can also call the HSE Drugs helpline on 1800 459 459.
- Alcohol Action Ireland – takes what is known as a “public health approach” to alcohol-related harm by focusing on policies most likely to deliver widest benefits to the greatest number of people within the population.
- Al-Anon and Alateen – a support service for relatives and friends of problem drinkers. Alateen offers understanding and support specifically for children of problem drinkers. Call 01 8732699 or visit www.al-anon.ie.
- Alcoholics Anonymous – through mutual support, the AA aims to help its members achieve and maintain sobriety. There are no membership fees. Call 01 8420700 or visit www.alcoholicsanonymous.ie.
- Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society (MEAS) – MEAS, the Irish word for respect, encapsulates the core value of the organisation, that alcohol must be respected, and when we consume it, we must respect ourselves and others. Visit www.meas.ie.