Most people say they drink because it makes them feel relaxed, confident and sociable. This is because alcohol is a depressant which slows down the brain and nervous system, reducing feelings of anxiety and shyness.

You can find out more about the effects of alcohol on the Talk to Frank website (opens an external link).

Other people say they drink to escape from personal problems, but this may be stopping them from finding a real answer to their issues – eventually long-term alcohol abuse may become another problem.

Effects of alcohol

Drinking too much over a short period of time is known as binge drinking and can have these negative effects:

  • hangovers making you feel sick, tired, dehydrated and depressed.
  • doing things you’ll regret, like behaving aggressively or having unprotected sex
  • addiction - relying on alcohol and feeling bad without it.
  • serious illnesses like liver damage, stomach cancer and heart disease.
  • overdosing -  this could put you in a coma or even kill you.

How much is too much?

Alcoholic drinks have different strengths, measured in units. One unit is about the amount of alcohol in half a pint of beer, lager or cider. It’s also equal to a single measure of vodka or whiskey.

Visit the Drinkaware website for the latest alcohol unit guidelines 

If you find someone who is alone, very drunk and having difficulty staying awake, don’t leave them - lie them on their side so they don’t choke if they vomit.

Mixing and tolerance

Tolerance means your body’s resistance to alcohol – people who drink a lot might have more tolerance than people who don’t – so the effects of alcohol can be greater in people who drink less.
Mixing alcohol with other drugs like painkillers can be very unsafe, as you don’t know how your body will react. Taking a drug like a depressant with alcohol (also a depressant) can slow down your brain and body functions to dangerous levels.

Are you allowed to drink alcohol?

It isn’t against the law to drink alcohol, unlike drugs – but it can still affect your health like other drugs, and be just as addictive.

Your age means that there are different laws around if you can buy or drink alcohol:

  • up to 14: illegal to drink or buy alcohol, except under medical supervision in an emergency
  • 5 to 14: you can only go into a pub if it’s got a children’s certificate – and only to designated areas
  • 14 and 15: you can go anywhere in a pub, but you can’t buy or drink alcohol anywhere
  • 16 and 17: you can only buy and drink beer or cider with a meal in an eating area of a pub
  • 18 and over: you can buy alcohol anywhere