Effects and risks of alcohol

Effects of alcohol

Alcohol is a nervous system depressant and works by slowing down various parts of the brain. It works its way through more areas of the brain than most other substances, including areas that control inhibition, thought, perception, attention, judgement, memory, sleep and coordination. You can read a bit more about how alcohol does what it does in this BBC Newsbeat article or on drugscience


Risks of alcohol

Although drinking alcohol is socially acceptable for most groups of people in the UK,  there are many risks, both short and longer term. The immediate risks to young people relate to the way alcohol can affect inhibition, coordination, decision making and judgement.


Short term risks include:

  • Having an accident – in traffic, from a fall, in water
  • Hurting someone – getting involved in a fight, or saying or doing something that damages a relationship
  • Risky sex and its possible consequences, whether relating to sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies or legal consequences relating to consent
  • Unconsciousness, making someone vulnerable to assault or theft, or more seriously to choking on their vomit
  • Alcohol poisoning – caused by drinking too much, often in too short a space of time.

Alcohol is also one of the most addictive substances and a tolerance can be developed relatively quickly, meaning that more has to be consumed to achieve the same effect, with related health harms.


Longer term health risks include liver disease, heart disease, a range of cancers, diabetes and a range of mental health issues, as well as dependency. In 2017 to 2018 in England there were 1.17 million hospital admissions where the primary or any secondary reason for admission was linked to alcohol.


There are also potential legal risks and consequences for young people, such as being drunk and disorderly, public order offences, assault charges, property damage and drink driving.


You can find out more about the effects and risks of alcohol on the NHS website  and drinkaware.

If you have concerns about your own drinking or someone else’s you can find some useful advice here.

If you feel you need professional help you can find information about local young people’s drug and alcohol services here .