Alcohol is widely available in many varieties, including wine, beer, and spirits, and drinking alcohol is largely viewed as socially acceptable in the UK. Alcohol varies in strength and taste. Labels will always tell you how strong the drink is and will usually outline how many units are in the drink.

Also known as:

  • Booze
  • Sauce
  • Hooch

Alcohol at a glance

How it can make you feel:

Relaxed, sociable, confident, dizzy and drowsy.

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Alcohol dependency:

If you're dependent, or think you might be, it's important not to stop drinking suddenly.

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How to reduce harm:

Some ways of using alcohol carry less risk than others.

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Signs of overdose and what to do:

If someone passes out and you can’t wake them up, put them in the recovery position and call 999.

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Withdrawal signs and what to do:

Sweating, shaking, nausea or retching, anxiety, hallucinations, fits or seizures and delirium.

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How can alcohol make me feel? 

Alcohol can make you feel:

  • Relaxed
  • Sociable 
  • Confident 
  • Drowsy or dizzy

Alcohol can also:

  • Slow down how you process information and your reaction time
  • Slow down your breathing and heart rate
  • Lower your inhibitions 
  • Negatively impact your decision-making
  • Cause nausea or vomiting
  • Result in memory loss 
  • Lead to you becoming unconscious
  • Cause dehydration
  • Disturb your sleep

How long do the effects of alcohol last?

It depends on several factors, including your age, weight and metabolism, other drugs you may already have taken, the strength of the drink (abv or % value), and the amount you drink.

Generally speaking, the effects can start within ten minutes, and can last for several hours.

What happens to my body if I drink alcohol regularly?

Regularly drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol can:

  • Damage your liver
  • Increase your risk of cancer and heart disease
  • Cause damage to your stomach and digestive system
  • Lead to memory loss or permanent brain damage
  • Cause you to become dependent. If you drink heavily for a long time, you might have problems when you stop or cut back - this is known as withdrawal and can lead to seizures, which can be fatal.

How much alcohol can I drink safely?

There is no completely safe level of drinking alcohol, but to help reduce the risk of harm, it is advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week.

This is equivalent to about 6 pints of beer or 6 medium glasses of wine, per week. 

These units should ideally be consumed over several days, with a minimum of two alcohol-free days per week. 

If you’re concerned about how much you’re drinking, or if you’re worried about someone you know, we’re WithYou.  

Contact us via our webchat, find a local service or see the alcohol support we offer.

If you're alcohol dependent...

or think you might be, it’s important that you don’t stop drinking suddenly, as this could lead to very dangerous alcohol withdrawal complications. For support with cutting down your alcohol intake safely, speak to your GP, contact us online or find your local WithYou service.

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How to reduce harm when drinking alcohol

Some ways of drinking alcohol carry less risk than others. This advice can help you reduce harm.

Before you start drinking, you might want to ask:

  • Is now the right time? How you’re feeling when you drink can impact the effects you may experience, so consider checking in with yourself and thinking about whether now is a good time for you.
  • Will I feel safe? Inhibitions can be lowered when you’re drinking alcohol, so try and find a space where you feel safe, comfortable, with people you trust.
  • How am I getting home? If you’re going out, planning how you’ll get home before you start drinking can help to keep you safe.
  • Have I contacted a friend or family member? In case you need help while you’re drinking, consider telling someone your plans.

While you're drinking alcohol:

Stay within the guidelines:

Adhering to the guidelines - 14 units of alcohol per week (about 6 pints of 4% beer or 6 medium (175ml) glasses of wine) - can help you to reduce the risks of alcohol impacting your health in the longer-term

Go at your own pace:

Everyone responds differently to alcohol, so trying to keep up with others could increase your risk of harm. Things like eating before drinking alcohol, or drinking soft drinks between alcoholic drinks can help you to manage your alcohol consumption

Try measuring drinks

Using a measure to pour drinks can help you to keep track of how much you’re drinking, especially if you’re at home

The recovery position

The recovery position helps to prevent someone unconscious from choking on vomit. If someone is unconscious, putting them in the recovery position, getting help if needed, and staying with them will help to reduce the risk of harm

After drinking alcohol:

  • Looking after and being kind to yourself is important - get plenty of sleep and rest, and try to avoid taking any other drugs to give your body time to recover

  • Refuelling will help your recovery - this includes drinking plenty of water and eating something nutritious which is soft on your stomach and not too rich

  • Drinking alcohol to feel better if you have a hangover (‘hair of the dog’) is a common myth. However, if you are alcohol dependent and need to drink more to stop yourself from shaking or experiencing other withdrawal symptoms, it’s important not to stop drinking suddenly

  • If you think you may be at risk of blood-borne viruses (BBVs) like Hep B, Hep C and HIV, you can access free testing from any drug and alcohol service, your GP, or a sexual health centre 

Signs of alcohol overdose:

  • Unconsciousness (won’t wake with a shout or a shake)
  • Severe nausea or vomiting
  • Fitting or seizures 
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing, making snoring sounds, or breathing noisily 
  • Bluish (on lighter skin), greyish (on darker skin), or pale tingeing of the knees, hands and lips
  • Pale, cold and clammy skin

If you think someone has overdosed on alcohol...

If someone passes out or falls asleep and you can’t wake them up, put them in the recovery position and get help fast by calling 999, telling emergency services what you know.

Alcohol withdrawal signs, symptoms and what to do

If your body develops a tolerance to alcohol, you may feel you need to drink more to get the same effects. 

You can become dependent on alcohol, and regular use can lead to physical withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop or cut back.

Withdrawal from alcohol can be fatal. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of withdrawal, call 999.

Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Nausea or retching
  • High levels of anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Fits or seizures
  • Delirium (confusion) 

For support with cutting down your alcohol intake, contact a local WithYou service, use our Webchat service, or reach out to another drug and alcohol service for advice and support.

The law around alcohol

In the UK, it’s legal to buy and drink alcohol if you are over the age of 18. It’s against the law for anyone under 18 years of age to buy alcohol in a pub, shop or online, and doing so may result in being arrested or fined.  

Looking for support?

If you’re concerned about your alcohol use, or if you’re worried about someone you know, we’re WithYou. We provide free, confidential and non-judgemental support and advice. Please don’t hesitate to reach out: