What it is
Alcohol is a psychoactive drug (meaning that it’s mind-altering) that affects the way we think and behave. It’s a depressant, so it also slows down our heart rate, breathing, thoughts and actions. Alcoholic beverages are made from fermented or distilled grains, fruits, or vegetables, and usually contain 5%, 12%, or 40% alcohol.
How it’s used
Most Canadians drink alcohol, usually in social situations. As a matter of fact, Canadians consume more than 50% above the world average. Many people who drink moderately say that it enhances the enjoyment of ordinary life. But like other drugs, alcohol can also be harmful.
How it affects us
In small amounts, alcohol can make us feel more sociable and talkative. In larger amounts, our inhibitions disappear—so does our balance, vision, coordination and ability to make important decisions.
Even people who normally drink responsibly can drink too much and make poor decisions—like driving while impaired. Over time, drinking large amounts can also cause cirrhosis, where the liver stops functioning properly. Some people can develop alcohol dependence—meaning they need alcohol to cope with daily life. And if we drink too much in a short amount of time, we can develop alcohol poisoning, which affects our breathing, heart rate and gag reflex, and could even lead to coma or death.
Lowering the risk
Don’t drink too much, and be sure to keep track of the number of drinks you’ve had. Drink slowly and alternate between non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages. Eat something before you drink. Don’t drink every day, and set limits on how much you’re going to drink each week. Know the strength of the alcohol you are drinking, and drink only in safe places and times (like with trusted friends) to help minimize alcohol-related harm. Remember, women (on average) can’t drink as much alcohol as men due to differences in their bodies.
When to seek help
Drinking alcohol is a problem when it negatively affects our life or the lives of others.
If your drinking causes significant distress and problems in your daily life, you may have alcohol use disorder. Even a mild disorder can escalate and lead to serious problems, so early treatment is important. If this sounds like you, talk with your doctor. Other ways to get help include talking with a mental health professional or a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
If you're concerned about someone else’s drinking, ask a professional experienced in alcohol treatment for advice on how to approach them.
If someone you know is showing signs of alcohol poisoning, roll the person on their side and call 911 immediately.
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