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The Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on the Body

4 Oct 2021

The consumption of alcohol and drugs can lead to dangerous, lasting effects on the human body. It is important that before people make the choice to take or consume either of these, that they know and understand the risks involved.


Different types of drugs can affect the human body in various ways and can differ from person to person. How a drug effects an individual is dependent on a variety of factors including body size, general health, the amount and strength of the drug, and whether any other drugs are in the system at the same time. It is important to remember that illegal drugs are not controlled substances, and therefore the quality and strength may differ from one batch to another.

Drugs can have both short- and long-term effects and can be physical and psychological.

Often, individuals use drugs without thinking about the harm it can have on their body. They may think that it’s not a problem because they’re only a casual user but the more they take a drug, the more likely they are to build up a tolerance to its effects. This ultimately can lead to the idea that they need to take larger doses, searching for the effect that they initially got the first time having it and with prolonged use, this can lead to drug dependence.

Drug use can affect short- and long-term health outcomes. Some of these health outcomes can be serious, and possibly irreversible.

Drug use can lead to risky or out of character behaviour. According to Better Health, when affected by drugs:

  • You are more likely to have an accident (at home, in a car, or wherever you are).
  • You may be vulnerable to sexual assault or you may engage in unprotected sex. Either of these could lead to pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection.
  • You could commit a sexual assault or other violent act.
  • You may find it hard to sleep, think, reason, remember and solve problems.

Drug use can also result in long-term health outcomes that include:

  • Cancer
  • Acne
  • Addiction
  • Infectious diseases, from shared injecting equipment
  • Harm to your body, if you are pregnant
  • Accidental overdose
  • Higher risk of mental illness, depression, suicide and death
  • Harm to organs and systems in your body, such as the throat, stomach, liver, heart, brain and nervous system
  • Psychosis



Many Australians enjoy a drink out at the pub watching the footy, or at home with their mates having a barbie. In fact, alcohol is Australia’s most widely used social drug. Like all drugs, alcohol can damage your body, especially if you drink heavily every day or in binges.

Alcohol affects your body in many ways. Some effects are immediate and last only a while; others accumulate over time and may significantly affect your physical and mental health and quality of life.

How much harm alcohol causes your body depends on how much you drink, your pattern of drinking, and even the quality of the alcohol you drink. Your body size and composition, age, drinking experience, genetics, nutritional status, metabolism, and social factors all play a part as well.

As outlined by Better Health, the short-term effects of a single occasion of drinking too much alcohol can include:

  • lowered inhibitions
  • interpersonal conflict
  • falls and accidents
  • altered behaviour – including risky or violent behaviour
  • hangover
  • alcohol poisoning.

The severity of the short-term effects of alcohol typically depends on how much a person drinks, but other factors such as hydration and food consumption also play a role.

Historically it has been believed that consuming on average more than two standard drinks a day is what can cause many long-term health problems and other harms. Nowadays, current research states that any level of alcohol consumption can pose an increased risk of chronic disease development.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says alcohol contributes to more than 200 different types of diseases and injury.

Some of the most common alcohol-related harms include:

  • Family breakdown
  • Cancers
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Self-harm (suicide)
  • Liver diseases
  • Mental health conditions
  • Cardiovascular disease

Sometimes heavy drinking results in the much more serious effect of alcohol poisoning. This is a life-threatening emergency. Call 000 for emergency care if you see these signs in someone who has been drinking:

  • Confusion
  • vomiting
  • seizures
  • slow breathing (less than eight breaths a minute) or irregular breathing (a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths)
  • blue-tinged skin or pale skin
  • low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • difficulty remaining conscious
  • passing out (unconsciousness) and can’t be woken.

If someone is unconscious or cannot be woken up, they could be at risk of dying. If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning – even if you don’t see the signs and symptoms – seek immediate medical attention.

It is important that all Australians stay safe and understand the risks involved with both these risk-taking behaviours. For more information visit