Alcohol can cause both short-term and long-term effects.

Alcohol can cause both short-term effects, such as lowered inhibitions, and long-term effects, including a weakened immune system.  You won’t necessarily feel alcohol’s impact on your body right away, but it starts from the moment you take your first sip.

Many people assume the occasional beer or glass of wine, at mealtimes or special occasions, doesn’t present any cause for concern as they never become intoxicated or drink regularly.  Nevertheless, drinking any amount of alcohol can potentially lead to unwanted health consequences.  People who binge drink or drink heavily may notice more health effects sooner, but alcohol also poses some risks for people who drink in moderation.

What does it mean to drink in moderation?

Current guidelines define moderate drinking as:

  • 1 or fewer drinks each day for women.
  • 2 or fewer drinks each day for men.

Short-term effects of alcohol

Temporary effects while drinking alcohol (or shortly after) can include:

  • Lowered inhibitions.
  • Impulsive behaviour.
  • Slowed or slurred speech.
  • Nausea, vomiting and or diarrhoea.
  • Feelings of relaxation or drowsiness.
  • A sense of euphoria or giddiness.
  • Changes in mood.
  • Changes in hearing, vision and perception.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Trouble focusing or making decisions.
  • Loss of consciousness or gaps in memory (often called a blackout).

Some of these effects, might show up quickly after just one drink, and others, may develop after a few drinks.

Dehydration-related effects, like nausea, headache, and dizziness, might not appear for a few hours, and they can also depend on what you drink, how much you drink and if you also drink water.

These effects might not last very long, but that doesn’t make them insignificant.  Impulsiveness, loss of coordination and changes in mood can affect your judgment and behaviour and contribute to more far-reaching effects, including accidents, injuries and decisions you later regret.

Long-term effects of alcohol

Alcohol use can also lead to more lasting concerns.  Some long-term effects of frequently drinking alcohol can include:

  • Persistent changes in mood, including anxiety and irritability.
  • Insomnia and other sleep concerns.
  • A weakened immune system, meaning you might get sick more often.
  • Changes in libido and sexual function.
  • Changes in appetite and weight.
  • Problems with memory and concentration.
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks.
  • Increased tension and conflict in relationships.

Alcohol safety tips

There’s no entirely safe way to consume alcohol, but if you choose to drink, these tips can help reduce some risks:

  • Make sure you eat. Avoid drinking on an empty stomach to avoid becoming intoxicated too fast.  Eating a nutritious meal before drinking alcohol can help you avoid a hangover or getting too drunk.  Foods high in protein and healthy fats can help slow alcohol absorption.  Foods rich in potassium and electrolytes can help with the after effects of dehydration.
  • Drink plenty of water. For every standard drink you consume aim to have a glass of water.
  • Don’t drink too fast. Drink slowly to give your body plenty of time to process the alcohol.  Your body can usually only process one standard drink per hour.
  • Don’t drink and drive. Never drive while intoxicated.  Even if you feel like you’ve sobered up, you may still have alcohol in your system that can affect your reaction time.
  • Don’t mix with other substances. Mixing alcohol with caffeine can hide the depressant effects of alcohol, making you drink more than you might otherwise.  Drinking coffee or an energy drink to “sober up” may make you feel more awake, but it may also make you more inclined to make the mistake of trying to drive while under the influence.  Combining alcohol with other drugs can also have adverse effects.