Albert Road Clinic
Part of Ramsay Health Care

Alcohol: Australia’s most widely-used recreational drug

While you might not think of alcohol as being a drug, the fact is it’s Australia’s most widely-used recreational drug. And, just like any other drug, overuse can be harmful.

We’re all affected differently – but we’re all affected

Alcohol affects everyone in different ways. The way it affects you can be impacted by your age, size, how much you drink usually and your health, but no matter who you are, overuse of alcohol can cause issues.

During times of stress and anxiety, sometimes people are tempted to drink more, but drinking too much has impacts beyond just being drunk and getting a hangover. Your physical and mental health, your job, your finances, your family and friends can all feel the effects of your excessive drinking.

What counts as a binge?

According to the Victorian Government, almost 1 in 3 Australians drink more than they should on a single occasion (also known as binge drinking).

Binge drinking can take a number of forms, including drinking a lot on one occasion or a lot over a series of days or weeks.

Even when Australians are not binging, we are regularly overusing alcohol. Almost 1 in 5 Australian adults consumes more than 2 standard drinks per day on average.

What are the effects of too much alcohol?

In the short term, the effects of too much alcohol can include:

  • memory loss
  • vomiting
  • dizziness
  • lack of judgement
  • loss of coordination

Other issues too much alcohol can cause are:

  • headaches and hangovers
  • accidental injury (to self or others)
  • being in a road accident
  • deliberately harming yourself or others
  • alcohol poisoning (which can lead to hospitalisation or death)

In the long term, drinking more than 2 standard drinks a day can seriously affect your health. Dependence and addiction, especially in people who have depression or anxiety, are far more likely, and it can increase your risk of suicide. It’s not limited to later life either – alcohol is also the largest cause of drug-related deaths among Australian teenagers.

People driving or operating machinery, those under 18 or older than 65, and those taking other medicines or drugs are also much more likely to be harmed while drinking alcohol.

What does alcohol dependency or addiction look like?

Addiction doesn't discriminate. Anyone, from any socioeconomic or cultural group, can be affected by alcoholism. Although each person behaves differently, some of the symptoms include:

  • drinking more than you want to, for longer than intended – even if you didn’t plan on drinking
  • risky behaviour, including driving while under the influence or causing conflicts with strangers
  • looking different. Suffering from addiction can make you forget about things like hygiene and personal appearance.
  • being able to drink a lot. Tolerance builds the more a person drinks, so it might take longer to get drunk than it used to.
  • ‘needing’ a drink or feeling sick or anxious without one. This is called withdrawal. Signs of withdrawal include anxiety, sweating, shaking, nausea, irritability, fatigue, and loss of appetite.
  • continuing to drink despite its effects on work, personal relationships and other important things.

Enjoying alcohol responsibly

Drinking safely doesn’t mean stopping completely, but it’s important to have healthy habits. Some tips include:

  • drinking water or soft drinks between alcoholic drinks
  • being aware of how many standard drinks you’re consuming – some wine glasses can hold up to 2 standard drinks
  • controlling your intake and not letting others pressure you into drinking more than you want to
  • getting your own drinks. Don’t accept drinks from strangers and drink at your own pace
  • enjoying activities, alone or with friends, that don’t include alcohol

Getting help for yourself or a loved one

Whether it’s you or someone else who feels they might have a drinking problem, there are services that can help. These include:

If you or a loved one needs additional care, the Albert Road clinic offers outpatient and inpatient treatments for alcohol-related issues. To learn more about our services, visit our Addictions Service page.

Alcohol: Australia’s most widely-used recreational drug