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What are some of the effects of alcohol?

Drinking alcohol can affect people in lots of different ways. As well as the obvious example of making people feel more social, it can also cause a series of both short-term and long-term issues.

Potential short-terms problems include:

  • poor decision making
  • aggression and violence
  • blurred vision
  • feeling and being sick.

Alcohol can also affect your health in long term ways, including:

  • brain damage
  • raised blood pressure
  • liver cancer
  • breast cancer.

As a depressant, alcohol can also have a negative impact on your mental health. It should never be used to ‘mask’ any feelings, and there are much healthier ways to deal with any challenges you might be facing. Check out our article below for more information on this.

While you might not suffer any of these effects while drinking alcohol, you need to manage the way you use it to try and reduce the risk and long-term side effects. The Health Promotion Agency’s ‘Department of Lost Nights’ campaign video ‘Say Yeah, Nah’ is a striking look at the particular issue of memory loss on a night out.

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How can I make sure I use alcohol responsibly?

Heavy drinking and poor management over what you drink can be a massive problem. There are a number of factors that can affect the way your body responds to alcohol, some of these are:

  • the concentration of alcohol in the beverage (highly concentrated beverages such as spirits are more quickly absorbed)
  • how quickly alcohol is consumed
  • body type (heavier and more muscular people have more fat and muscle to absorb the alcohol)
  • age, sex, ethnicity (eg, women have a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC) after drinking the same amount of alcohol than men due to differences in metabolism and absorption).

If you decide to drink alcohol, sticking to low-risk drinking is a good way to do it responsibly. Having a maximum of ten standard drinks a week for women and fifteen for men is advised, with a 330ml bottle of 5% beer equal to 1.3. Setting limits for yourself and not 'binge drinking' are also good ways to make sure you stay at a low-risk level.

Although drinking a small amount of alcohol doesn’t mean you won’t have any negative effects, it does greatly improve your chances. Remember that the alcohol limit for drivers under 20 years is zero.

Not drinking at all is clearly the best way to avoid any potential issues and is a particularly healthy option, though low-risk drinking is the next best approach to take.

The links will give you more detail on what low-risk drinking is, but a couple of useful things to take away are to have at least two alcohol-free days every week, and for any women that even suspect they are pregnant to avoid drinking at all.

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And what about other drugs?

Just like alcohol, the experiences people can have with other drugs, both legal and illegal, are widely varied. While not everyone who takes drugs will have a negative experience, you will need to be wary of the potential impacts taking drugs can have.

These include:

  • difficult breathing
  • shaking, twitching and seizures
  • anxiety and panic
  • losing touch with reality
  • social and legal implications, such as being arrested.

Before considering taking any kind of drug, make sure you think about how it can affect your physical and mental health, and what kind of impact it can have on the people around you. Being wary of things like the potential effects of taking drugs, and drinking, while you're on prescription medication is also important.

If you're at a festival, there may be the option to get any drugs tested to check what they contain. While it won't make it safe to take the drug, it will at least let you know what's in it so you can make an informed decision.

Finally, if you know someone who is struggling with drug use, your main concern should be their own safety and the safety of others. Make sure you talk to them quietly and calmly, be encouraging and help support them moving forward. At any sign of an overdose or psychosis, call 111. You won't get in trouble, and it could save their life.

If you’re searching for some detailed and clear information on a range of different drugs, including alcohol, cannabis and meth, check out the New Zealand Drug Foundation link below.

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Where can I go for support?

If alcohol and drugs are having a negative effect on your life, or the life of someone close to you, there are places you can reach out and get help.

A few places you can call for support include:

  • The Alcohol Drug Helpline – a service available for anyone with questions relating to alcohol and other drugs, either for themselves or someone else
  • Alcoholics Anonymous – a group that offers people the opportunity to share their experiences with others having the same issues
  • YouthLine – provides more general counselling services for young people.

For a full list of useful contacts, check out the Youth Law link below.

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Key websites

  • Ministry of Health - The Ministry of Health is the Government ministry that looks after health and disability. As well as having a range of articles, they also have information on their website for Healthline, which is a number you can call if you’re looking for advice.
  • NZ Drug Foundation - A registered charity, the NZ Drug Foundation produces resources and advocates for policies focussed on reducing the harm drugs have on our society. The ‘Do you know’ section is particularly useful for young people.