Alcohol Information

These details are taken from Terrence Higgins Trust website

For further information please call THT Direct on 0845 12 21 200 or visit


What’s the score?

Alcohol is also known as: booze, drink; in America liquor and in Australia grog.

Booze is the oldest and most widely used drug in the UK. It’s a mood changing drug and a depressant but in small doses it acts as a stimulant.

Taking alcohol

Alcohol is made when sugar and other carbohydrates ferment (usually with the help of yeast).  Booze can be made from grains (eg, barley makes whiskey, hops make beer, rye makes vodka), fruits (grapes make wine, apples make cider) or vegetables (potatoes make vodka). Its effects are stronger on an empty stomach. Mixing different types of drink gets you more drunk and ends in a worse hangover.

Highs and lows

Alcohol heightens your mood, making you happier or more affectionate if you feel that way already. It can relax you, lower your inhibitions, and make you more sociable and confident. If your mood’s low, alcohol can make it lower. It’s well known for causing aggression. When booze lowers inhibitions, it can put you at risk of harm and affect your judgement.

Because it’s a depressant alcohol slows down your body’s reactions, causing slurred speech, lack of co-ordination, blurred vision, sleepiness or passing out. Other unwelcome effects are throwing up and dehydration (not enough water in the body is the main cause of hangovers). Higher doses cause blackouts (not being able to remember what happened) and very high doses can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can kill.

Sex and alcohol

Alcohol can lower your inhibitions and make you feel horny and sexually confident. It can also make people less uptight, more affectionate or sexually assertive and experimental. The numbing effect of booze can make it harder to come and drinking can stop you getting a hard-on. Heavy drinkers can lose both their sex drive and ability to get erections.

As drink affects people’s judgement it might make them more likely to take risks during sex, including getting or passing on HIV. Booze can stop you being in control of what you do sexually – or mean you can’t remember afterwards what sex you had.

Find out more about drugs and sex here.

A long term relationship?

Alcohol is a low level toxin (the reason it damages the heart and liver in heavy drinkers and why pregnant women shouldn’t drink).

Heavy drinking over a long time can lead to problem drinking, liver disease, cancers (of the throat, mouth and liver) and brain damage. Excessive drinking kills thousands each year.

Addiction to alcohol can be physical (the ‘shakes’ are a withdrawal symptom) or psychological (giving you an intense urge to keep drinking).

Alcohol with other drugs

Depressants  – because alcohol’s a depressant drug, mixing it with other depressants likes GHBketamine or tranquilisers like Valium can make you pass out or interfere with your breathing or heart (which can kill). GHB-related overdoses and deaths often involve alcohol; it’s risky to take GHB with booze in your system from drinking earlier.

Ecstasy  – booze deadens the effects of E and together both can dangerously dehydrate the body. E-related deaths often involve alcohol.

Cocaine – in the body alcohol combines with cocaine to make cocaethylene, which can make the effects of the coke stronger. Mixing the two increases the harm done by both drugs. There’s a bigger risk of sudden death when people use cocaine and alcohol together.

HIV drugs – there are no significant bad reactions with alcohol, but if booze makes you throw up within an hour of taking HIV medication, the dose should be taken again. As booze often causes vomiting, mixing it with other drugs carries the risk of choking on vomit if you fall unconscious.

Useful to know

Drinking water between drinks and/or before sleeping cuts down on dehydration and hangover symptoms.

Alcohol can make anxiety, depression or sleep problems worse, so should be treated with caution if you’re vulnerable to these.

Coffee can’t sober you up. Only alcohol leaving your system over time does this.

The law

To buy alcohol you must be 18 or over. If 16-17 you can have it bought for you if ordering food and with an adult. It’s against the law to sell alcohol to someone who’s drunk.  The UK legal limit for drinking and driving is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The penalty for driving over the limit can be a 1 year driving ban, fine of up to £5,000 or a prison sentence of up to 6 months. Causing death by dangerous driving can lead to 14 years in prison and a 2 year driving ban. A drink driving endorsement will stay on your drivers licence for 11 years. Two pints of normal strength lager or 1 large glass of wine are enough to put someone over the limit.


  • 1 pint of strong lager/cider = 3 units.
  • 1 alcopop = 1.5 units.
  • 1 small glass of wine = 2 units.
  • 1 can of strong lager = over 2 units.
  • 1 double measure of spirits = 2 units.

Problem drinking

Most people with drink problems aren’t actually alcoholics. Many will only drink a few days a week but then drink to excess.

Is your drinking (or the drinking of someone close to you) a problem? These can be the signs;


  • Trying to cut down on drinking
  • Getting annoyed if people comment on how much they drink
  • Feeling guilty about drinking
  • Needing a drink first thing in the morning.


If someone gets ‘the shakes’ this means they’re ‘alcohol dependent’ and suddenly coming off alcohol could be dangerous – consult a doctor.

The World Health organisation has devised a test that can help someone decide if their drinking is a problem. Versions of this test can be completed online at:

More info

Tips for cutting down and getting help

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
National but has also has meetings at Kairos, the gay community organisation in Soho, London.

Free, confidential helpline offering help and support around your drinking or someone else’s.

Phone: 0800 917 8282 (9am-11pm weekdays)