The effects of alcohol

What happens to the body when drinking alcohol:

When you drink, alcohol enters the bloodstream through your stomach and small intestine. From there it travels to the brain, and because it’s a depressant, it slows down the functions of your body.

Drinking Alcohol

Slows down your reaction time

Impairs your vision

Makes it harder to think clearly and make good decisions

Makes you less coordinated

Makes you slur your speech

Getting “drunk” (or intoxicated) is your body’s reaction to drinking too much alcohol.

When you are drunk

Your brain function is impaired

Your blood vessels dilate; this means that you feel warmer, but your body is actually losing heat

Your risk of getting into a car crash, a physical fight, or sustaining an injury is greatly increased

Both short and long term:

Drinking to excess has both short-term and long-term effects on your body. Short term risks of drinking alcohol are mostly relate to impaired judgment and include injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes and falls, violence, including sexual assault, or risky sexual behaviors. Additionally, long term alcohol use can lead to chronic illness such as

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease, including cancer
  • Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, oesophagus, liver, or colon
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Alcohol dependence or alcoholism

What is alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is one of the most dangerous consequences of binge drinking (drinking too much alcohol over a short period of time). Alcohol is processed by your liver, and it takes approximately an hour to process 1 unit of alcohol. So, if you drink too much, you can give your liver more than it can handle. Although your body absorbs alcohol quickly, it takes a lot longer to get out of your system. If you’ve binged, you’re left with a body that can’t process all the alcohol that it took in, and you can become very sick

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Feeling confused
  • Throwing up
  • Having seizures
  • Breathing too slowly
  • Blue-ish or very pale skin
  • Low body temperature
  • Passing out (and not able to be awakened)

If someone you know has any of these symptoms, they need immediate medical help. Call 999 right away, and remember to never leave an unconscious person alone.

Impact on the Family

When someone has an alcohol problem it can impact the whole family. Impacts include: financially, emotionally, and physically and struggling to cope with life. There can be tension, anxiety and uncertainty. The uncertainty may be that a family member may not know what to expect from a loved one who drinks and this can be very difficult to live with. Family members often say that living with someone who uses alcohol is like living with Jekyll and Hyde, you never know who will appear.

The family unit can be a place of joy but also of extreme pain. Sometimes a family member may think that by not talking about it, the alcohol use will go unnoticed, however it is important for family members to speak-up and seek support for themselves. Traditionally services have focused on the person with the problem and yet family members also require services and that is who we try and support in Steps to Cope, those who are living with hidden harm.

How are we affected by it?

These words can describe life when living with a parent who drinks too much alcohol:

  • Unpredictable
  • Chaotic
  • Excessive

    Misuse of Alcohol

    Often when young people are growing up in families where alcohol is a problem the young person is deprived of the boundaries, guidance and support that they need. The impact can be seen through how a young person feels, thinks and acts. It differs from child to child but a list of the most common impacts are:

    • Feeling alone
    • An Overdeveloped sense of responsibility
    • Unable to understand why parents continue to drink despite the harm it causes.
    • Worrying about their parent’s health
    • Worrying their parent will die
    • Feelings of guilt
    • Inability to relax/have fun
    • Tendency to confuse love and pity
    • Fear of abandonment
    • Tendency towards physical and stress related complaints
    • Tendency to react rather than act
    • Missing meals
    • Being late for school
    • Not having anyone to talk to
    • Spoiled celebrations e.g. birthdays, holidays
    • Having to look after younger brothers and sisters
    • Young people living in this situation are more likely to use alcohol themselves.

    However you are affected it is important to remember – You are not alone and You are not to blame. It is important to take care of yourself. This may also help those around you. There is support out there and it may be good to talk about it. By taking these steps you are not letting anyone down. Steps to Cope is designed to help you talk about what your life is like when you are affected by a parent’s alcohol use. Check out our Self-Help section, to take the Steps to Cope intervention.