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Having a few beers or wines with colleagues and friends after work can be part of a team culture; a way to bond and debrief together to let go of the stresses of the day.

Alcohol-use can become a problem however when it becomes a regular and dependant part of how you function every day, and is used as a way of coping with painful emotions and stress.

How does your drinking compare to the recommended guidelines?

For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces your risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime.

Drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury.

Standard drinks illustration

Noticing the negative effects of alcohol

The increased sociability and reduced inhibition you feel with those first few drinks is actually caused by the slowing down of the part of your brain that is responsible for impulse control. Alcohol acts as a depressant, which means that it slows down the messages travelling between the brain and the body. As you drink more, you might start to notice your body running less effectively, which you may experience as:

Short-term effects of alcohol use:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Memory loss
  • Aggressive and violent behaviours
  • Slower reaction times
  • Lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Laboured breathing
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased risk of falls and accidents
  • Black-outs / unconsciousness
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Increased risk of stroke and dementia
  • Poor work performance
  • Hangovers

Long-term effects of alcohol use:

  • Alcohol dependence or addiction
  • Cirrhosis and liver failure
  • Sexual and reproductive problems (such as impotence, fertility issues)
  • Increased risk of stomach and bowel cancers, as well as stomach ulcers
  • Increased risk of heart damage and heart attacks
  • Weight management issues
  • Nutrition-related deficiencies
  • Interpersonal conflicts
  • Family and relationships problems
  • Mental ill-health conditions, such as depression and anxiety

Excessive alcohol consumption, including short and long-term binge drinking numbs and suppresses painful emotions; it also dulls and negatively impacts the positive parts of your life. Relationships can suffer as you withdraw from others, become unpredictable or take part in more risky behaviours and unsafe life decisions. There are multiple short and long-term effects relating to ill-health and social harm when put in the context of excessive alcohol consumption, misuse and/or dependency. Your physical and mental health can be severely impacted on many levels.

Is your drinking making a negative impact on your life?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, look at how much and how often you drink:

  • are you unable to stop drinking once you have started or find you often drink more than you intended?
  • have your friends, colleagues, or family expressed concerns about: how much you are drinking? negative changes in your behaviour?
  • have you been unable to meet your commitments due to drinking, for example, not going to work or not being able to look after the children?
  • do you experience feelings of guilt or regret because of your drinking?
  • at times are you unable to recall details of what happened while drinking?
  • are you becoming increasingly aggressive / or argumentative because of your drinking?
  • are you experiencing repeated legal issues because of your drinking?
  • is drinking the only way you feel able to cope with stress in your life?

If you answered 'Yes' to any of these questions, or are concerned that you're regularly drinking above the recommended level, a specialist health care professional may be able to assist you. Seek help as soon as you first suspect you may have a problem with alcohol.

What can I do?

When considering making changes to alcohol consumption, there are two options: abstaining from alcohol or drinking in moderation.

How you choose to reduce your alcohol intake depends on your preference and the severity of your drinking concerns. You may want to discuss the best option with your GP.

If you feel that you want to be taking more control over your alcohol use, consider the following options:

Start tracking how much and what type of alcohol you are drinking. You can get a better idea of your drinking patterns by using a daily tracker.
Become more aware of what triggers are attached to your drinking. For example, you may be drinking at certain times of the day, around specific people, or when you experience painful thoughts and feelings. Building your awareness of high risk times for drinking can help you put a plan in place to prevent it from happening.

If you know you are going to be in a situation where excessive alcohol use is encouraged or a normal part of group culture, make a plan about how you will manage it:

  1. Make a commitment to yourself before you go about how many drinks you will have to stay within a reasonable limit.
  2. Use non-alcoholic drinks as ‘spacers’ between alcoholic drinks, or plan to only have non-alcoholic drinks.
  3. Tell someone you trust at the event that you’re trying to cut back, and let them know how they can support you to do this.
There can be two types of social pressure to drink. People may directly pressure you by pushing the expectation that you will drink, or giving you options or opportunities to drink. Or there may be indirect pressure from being around other people who are drinking. Practice saying 'No' in a calm and confident way before you go out so it’s easier to do when you’re in the moment.

Practice Delay, Distract, Decide:

  • Delay drinking within an achievable timeframe (5, 10, 15 or 30 minutes). Gradually increase your delay periods. This teaches your brain that you don’t have to act on impulses that will eventually pass. Urge surfing can be a good technique to use when you need to ride out strong urges.
  • Distract yourself from drinking. Walk, read, talk to a friend or watch a movie. Have a list of activities that you can do when the urge to drink comes up.
  • Decide after the end of the set period of time why reducing your drinking is important to you. How will it help you to be the kind of person you want to be, and have the life you want to live?
Consider other ways to unwind and let go of tension, such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness or swimming. Remember to take care of yourself: eat a healthy diet, have a structured sleep routine, maintain positive social relationships and exercise regularly. By doing this, you’ll set yourself a strong foundation to build your resilience. 


There different treatment options that you can access to get support for yourself or a loved one who is experiencing difficulties with alcohol. This can include both psychological treatment and medication. You can speak to your GP, the Police Psychology Unit, your local health service, call a helpline such as the Alcohol and Drug Information Services VIC or visit the website of Turning Point, Australia’s leading addiction treatment, education, and research centre.