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Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol is classified as a sedative, which is a substance that has a depressant effect on the normal functioning status of the body. The more a person drinks, the stronger the depressant effect. Alcohol is known as a psychoactive substance, which means it has psychological properties that can also affect physical functioning. The effects of alcohol depend on a number of variables, including age, gender, general health, body composition, state of mind, and the presence of any other medications.

If more alcohol is consumed than the body can efficiently metabolize, (one drink per hour), the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream becomes elevated. The alcohol in the bloodstream is known as the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or blood alcohol level (BAL). Blood alcohol concentration is used to determine the effects of alcohol on the body. The higher the level, the more pronounced the effects. View a BAC chart.

A person with a BAC of 0.10 (10 parts alcohol to 10,000 parts blood) is considered intoxicated (in some states the level is 0.08). Even low doses of alcohol can affect bodily functions. Blood alcohol concentration measures are a useful way to detail the effects of alcohol consumption.

Blood Alcohol Concentration and Effects

BAC # Drinks Consumed Effects Hours needed to metabolize alcohol
0.05 1 - 2 Relaxation; decreased inhibition and judgment; decreased reaction time and alertness 2 - 3
0.05 - 0.10 3 - 4 Marked decrease in fine motor skills, reaction time, and judgment; may be clumsy; exaggerated behaviors 4 - 6
0.10 - 0.15 5 - 7 Vision and perception affected; can be verbally argumentative, emotionally irrational; further impairments in reaction time and judgment 6 - 10
0.15 - 0.30 8 - 10 Staggering; slurred speech; blurred vision; sensory and motor skills greatly affected; nausea/vomiting 10 - 24
more than 0.30 more than 10 Stuporous; may be conscious but unaware of surroundings; decreased respiration; anesthesia at levels above 0.35; approximately 50% will die at levels above 0.40 more than 24

A number of psychological effects accompany alcohol because of its psychoactive properties. Initially, the user experiences feelings of sociability and elation. A feeling of mild euphoria, relaxation, and increased self-confidence may be experienced. Many report that alcohol helps to alleviate tension and stress.

Since alcohol is a depressant, people who are lonely or depressed may have more negative experiences of depression. Crying is not unusual, as exaggerated emotions are often displayed. The disinhibition effect often experienced by drinkers is a result of the effect of alcohol on the nerve cells in the brain's cortex, which is the area responsible for reasoning, speech, and abstract thinking. Interference with the nerve conduction in this area may lead to behaviors not normally displayed by the drinker. A drinker could display sexual disinhibition or possibly violence and aggression.

Research has shown a direct relationship between alcohol and violence. People who are drinking often engage in behaviors they would not normally exhibit when not consuming alcohol. Many prison inmates report having used alcohol prior to the commission of crimes. Alcohol is a significant factor in robbery, rape, assault, and murder. The loosening of inhibitions coupled with impaired reasoning and judgment creates a volatile environment when the user is faced with decision-making circumstances. Unfortunately, such situations are not always handled in a reasonable manner, and violence may ensue.

Alcohol users are also at risk of becoming victims of crime. Since their judgment is impaired, drinkers may find themselves in dangerous situations or in the company of persons who may take advantage of their impaired state.

Alcohol use is strongly correlated with injury. In addition to those who drive automobiles while impaired, drinkers who operate boats, motorcycles, and other recreational equipment also incur a disproportionate number of fatalities. Many falls, drownings, fire injuries, and incidents of choking are also associated with the use of alcohol. It has also been noted that children whose parents/caregivers are problem drinkers are more likely to suffer injury.

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