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Facts about alcohol

Alcohol is an intoxicating substance. The active ingredient in drinks containing alcohol is ethanol. This is produced through the fermentation of grains, vegetables and fruits, which changes sugars into ethanol[1]. In its purest form, alcohol is colourless and has no taste. It is only during the manufacturing process (when other ingredients are added to the ethanol) that alcoholic drinks begin to vary in taste, smell, and colour. Often, alcohol is mistaken as a stimulant drug. This is because its consumption may initially cause the drinker to feel relaxed or even excited, depending on the social situation they are in and other environmental factors. For these reasons, alcohol is the most commonly used mood-changing drug in Australia[1]. However, alcohol is actually a depressant drug. When consumed, it depresses the actions of the central nervous system, including heart rate and breathing rate. Concentration, coordination, balance and judgment are also adversely impacted.

How is alcohol absorbed in the body?

Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach and the small intestine. It is then distributed throughout the body, including to the brain. After initial consumption, it only takes a few minutes for alcohol to reach the brain[1]. Eating food before or while drinking will slow the absorption of alcohol, it will not prevent a person from becoming intoxicated. However, the rate at which intoxication occurs may be reduced.

How is alcohol eliminated from the body?

Short-term effects include:

The elimination of alcohol from the body takes time. Engaging in such behaviours as exercise, drinking coffee, eating greasy foods or vomiting will not speed up this process. While approximately 10% of alcohol will leave the body through urine and sweat, the majority of alcohol is broken down by the liver. It is estimated that the liver can break down one standard drink each hour[1]. What are the short-term and long-term effects of alcohol consumption? Alcohol can cause a number of short and long-term health effects to the drinker.

• relaxation;

• reduced concentration and coordination;

• increased confidence and a lowering of inhibitions;

• blurred vision and slurred speech;

• mood changes, including aggression or depression;

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