wine glass and bottle

Alcohol is one of the most commonly used psychoactive drugs in the UK. The alcohol found in alcoholic drinks is ethanol.

Other names

booze, drink, bevvy



Drugs Wheel Category



Over 18s only.

It is illegal to sell alcohol to anyone who is under 18 or to buy alcohol for anyone who is under 18. For more information visit

How it’s taken



Alcohol slows your breathing and heart rate and can make you feel relaxed. People taking it can feel more outgoing and experience improved mood and increased confidence. Other effects include loss of memory as well as feeling drowsy, confused and nauseous. It also reduces your inhibitions and affects judgement. Like other drugs it can lead to dependency if used regularly and to excess. Avoid mixing alcohol with other drugs as this can increase harm and the risk of overdose.

There are lots of reasons for a hangover – including a combination of dehydration and alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol can affect your hormones; your oestrogen and testosterone levels at the time of drinking can affect how drunk you feel. Your body size can also determine how you feel the effects of alcohol.


  • UK guidelines suggest that any drinking amount of alcohol carries a risk and advise people not to exceed more than 14 units of alcohol per week (about 6 pints of beer 6 or medium glasses of wine). It is also recommended to have a minimum of two alcohol free days per week
  • Alcohol can cause damage to the liver
  • “The Fear” is real – alcohol can affect levels of dopamine and serotonin [brain chemicals involved in mood, sleep and appetite] and can leave you feeling anxious as the effects wear off. This can last hours or a whole day after drinking
  • Alcohol dehydrates the skin causing a lack of vitamins and nutrients. Over time it can lead to skin conditions
  • Alcohol is one of the biggest contributors to mental illness in Scotland
  • If someone is dependant on alcohol they should not stop drinking suddenly – alcohol withdrawal can be fatal
  • Anyone who has stopped drinking for a period of time will have reduced tolerance

Harm reduction

All drug use has its risks, but if you choose to take alcohol then the following steps can help to reduce harm:
  • Avoid mixing with other drugs including prescription medication
  • Driving under influence of alcohol is illegal – breathalyser kits can indicate blood alcohol levels but you should always ensure you are sober and well rested before driving
  • Plan ahead- make sure you have money to get home safely
  • Stay with your friends and look after each other
  • Avoid drinking more than 14 units of alcohol per week
  • Drink water in between alcoholic drinks to avoid dehydration – this can also reduce the negative effects the next day
  • Drinking alcohol can make you throw up – people should sleep on their side to avoid choking on vomit in their sleep
  • Make sure you have a good meal before drinking or your night might be over before it has begun!
  • Mixing alcohol with other drugs increases the risk and can make the effects unpredictable – avoid mixing with other drugs
  • Think about safe sex and always get consent
  • People may feel the effects of alcohol differently at certain points in their menstrual cycle – it may take less alcohol to feel the effects
  • If you throw up when drinking this could reduce the effectiveness of the contraceptive pill – use alternative methods to avoid unintended pregnancy
  • Be aware of interactions with medications – visit for information about alcohol and mental health medication

Detection time

People taking alcohol have reported the following detection time, but this cannot be taken as a recommendation; detection of any drug will depend on purity, regularity of use, other medications or drugs you have taken, your body and how it’s taken.
  • It takes around 1 hour for your body to process one unit of alcohol - longer if you are sleeping. It can be detected in urine for 3-5 days or blood for 10-12 hours