Alcohol is a liquid obtained through the fermentation of certain fruits or cereals, or through distillation, which is a process of condensation most often conducted using heat. Alcohol is a component of various beverages, including beer, coolers, wine, cider, aperitifs, liqueurs and spirits.

Alcohol is a depressant. This type of drug affects the central nervous system by numbing the brain and slowing the body. Alcohol affects behaviour and coordination.

Effects of alcohol

Drinking too fast or on an empty stomach speeds up the effects of alcohol. Smaller-statured and tired individuals also experience the effects of alcohol much quicker. These effects are influenced by the law of effect, which is the interaction of the following 3 factors:

  • The individual
  • The context in which he or she consumes
  • The product or substance being consumed

To learn more, read Effects of drugs section.

About an hour after the first drink, a person:

  • Feels relaxed
  • Is a little more talkative than usual
  • Is less shy
  • Usually feels a sense of pleasure
  • Can become more emotional, more sentimental and more excited

Alcohol can also induce:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Delayed reactions
  • Blurred vision
  • Digestive problems, nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of balance, difficulty or inability to walk
  • Confused or incomprehensible speech
  • Anger or depression
  • Difficulty or inability to organize thoughts

There is no way to prevent alcohol from mixing with blood or precipitate an end to its effects. You must wait for the body to get rid of the alcohol by itself.

On average, the body needs an hour to eliminate one standard drink, the equivalent of a glass of beer or wine.

A standard drink is:

  • A 341 mL (12 oz.) can or bottle of beer (5% alc./vol.)
  • A 142 mL (5 oz.) glass of wine (12% alc./vol.)
  • A 43 mL (1.5 oz.) glass of spirits (40% alc./vol.)
  • A 85 mL (3 oz.) glass of fortified wine (20% alc./vol.)

Alcohol and young people

Drinking alcohol can impair the physical and mental development of young people. Teens can become addicted to alcohol faster than adults because their personality structure is in full development. They should wait as long as possible before having their first drink. If they choose to drink, they must discuss it with their parents and drink in small quantities.

To learn more:

Risks associated with drinking and possible consequences

Higher risk of serious illnesses

Based on current knowledge, even moderate alcohol consumption can only be associated with limited health benefits. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse associates alcohol consumption, even in small quantities, with the risk of many serious illnesses.

For example, drinking a single glass of alcohol a day increases up to 42% the risk of getting any of the following illnesses:

  • Mouth and pharynx cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Rectal cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Laryngeal cancer
  • Epilepsy
  • Dysrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)

Impact on behaviour and judgment

Drinking can affect behaviour and judgment. The person who drinks may do things he or she would not normally do or make decisions he or she would not normally make. For instance, the person could:

  • Say hurtful things to a loved one
  • Drive under the influence of alcohol or think there is little risk in getting into a vehicle driven by someone who is also drunk
  • Post images and words on social media that could be harmful to family and friends or an employer when they see or find out about them
  • Get into a fight, sometimes even with a friend or family member
  • Have unprotected sex, which could lead to an unplanned pregnancy or a sexually transmissible infection
  • Do things that can cause harm to himself or herself or other people, such as committing an offence

Additionally, drinking in a prolonged and regular way, or in large quantities, can lead to other consequences:

  • Violence
  • Problems at school, work and with friends and family
  • Risky sexual behaviour
  • Addiction
  • Accidents, injuries and death
  • Suicide


Alcohol can lead to psychological and physical dependency.

With a psychological dependency, the person usually needs to drink more and more in order to feel better about himself or herself, relax, calm down, feel stimulated or have the courage to face problems.

With a physical dependency, a physiological need is created by the body’s addiction to the effects of the alcohol. If person tries to go without it, he or she may experience varying degrees of physical reaction, such as:

  • Anxiety, panic, irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Delirium
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shaking
  • Seizures (stiff body with jerky and involuntary muscle spasms)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations

To learn more, consult the following:

Consequences associated with safety and law

Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal and can lead to fines and a criminal record. To learn more, consult the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec website This hyperlink will open in a new window..

Risks associated with binge drinking

Binge drinking is heavy consumption of alcohol over a short period of time. This practice can have serious consequences:

  • Persistent vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • In the most serious cases, death

Someone who has drunk a lot of alcohol should never be left alone.

To learn more, read the Intoxication section of Problems Associated with Alcohol Consumption and Drug Use.

Mixing alcohol with other substances

Mixing alcohol with other substances, such as drugs, energy drinks or medication, can be dangerous. Such combinations can produce unpredictable effects and cause significant harm.

To learn more, read Alcohol and drugs: a dangerous combination.  

Help and resources

Last update: September 13, 2017


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