What is alcohol?

Make sure you know what you’re drinking and the effects it can have

Written by spunout


Alcoholic drinks consist chiefly of water and ethanol (ethylalcohol). Fermenting fruits, vegetables and grain produce alcohol. It is found in drinks like beer, lager, wine, alco pops, cider, and spirits such as whiskey or gin. Alcoholic drinks range in strength and are measured as a percentage (%) per volume, the higher the percentage, the stronger the effects are.

What are the effects of alcohol?

In moderate amounts, alcohol results in light headedness, loss of inhibitions and changes in mood, including feeling of relaxation, and becoming more talkative. It is also known to increase sexual desire.

The more alcohol consumed the stronger these effects are and users can quickly become nauseated, aggressive, sexually promiscuous, depressed, hyperactive and experience unpredictable mood swings. Speech, vision and physical co-ordination are also affected.

The intensity of the effects depends on the strength of the alcoholic drink, plus the rate and amount consumed. Other factors that influence the effects of alcohol include the weight of the drinker, their mood, surroundings and how recently they ate.

What are the risks of drinking?

  • Alcohol is a depressant drug. If you’re feeling down, it will make you feel worse 
  • A regular, long term drinking habit can lead to physical as well as psychological dependency
  • Tolerance can develop, which means you need more to get the same effect
  • Long term heavy drinking habits may cause serious damage to internal organs including heart, stomach and liver
  • Heavy drinkers can also have impotence and fertility problems
  • Heavy drinking can cause skin problems, trembling (the shakes), obesity, brain damage, mood swings and personality changes. 
  • Getting very drunk can lead to loss of consciousness and death particularly among those who are not used to drinking
  • Excessive consumption can also lead to alcohol poisoning and this can kill

Alcohol and sex

If a person is drunk they are legally unable to consent to having sex. Alcohol can also impact a person’s ability to get and keep an erection. Being drunk can lead you to take greater personal safety risks, such as having unprotected sex, being at risk of spiked drinks or drug rape, or drunk driving. If you are going to drink, find out how to lower the risk of drinking here.

What are the laws on alcohol in Ireland?

  • It is against the law for a young person under 18 to buy alcohol or drink alcohol in a public place
  • It is illegal for anyone over the age of 18 to supply or buy alcohol for someone who is under 18
  • It is an offence to sell alcohol to a person under 18 either on or off the premises by either a license holder or any individual
  • It is an offence to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Safety experts advise people do not drink at all if they are going to drive

Find out more about the effects and risks of alcohol.

Calculate how many units in a drink using this online calculator.

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