Alcohol and Short-Term Harm

Short-term harm is what may occur as a result of one (single) drinking occasion. The short-term harms of alcohol can not only impact the individual, but also family, friends and members of the community.

The most apparent immediate effects of alcohol are on the brain. The first effects can include feelings of relaxation and loss of inhibitions. However, the more alcohol a person drinks, the more their feelings and behaviour change. When a person drinks too much alcohol, they may experience effects such as drowsiness, loss of balance and coordination, slurred speech, nausea and vomiting. More serious effects such as losing consciousness or breathing difficulty can be fatal. [1]

If someone has drunk too much alcohol, it is important to stay with them and not to leave them alone. If their condition gets worse or they lose consciousness, it is important to know what to do and seek medical attention quickly (call 000).


Short-term effects

The Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol recommend for healthy adult men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion to reduce the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion. [1]

With every drink, the risk of accidents and/or injury increase for the person drinking and others around them. Alcohol increases the likelihood of:

  • a person being involved in anti-social behaviour
  • conflict, that can lead to fights and violence
  • injury due to falls, burns, car crashes etc.
  • unprotected or unwanted sexual encounters
  • problems that occur with friends and family [1,3]

In the ACT, there has been a 33% increase in the rate of presentations to emergency departments due to the toxic effects of alcohol between 2010-2011 (525 presentations) and 2014-15 (710 presentations). [4]

Every additional drink significantly increases the risk of injury and death for the drinker and may place others at risk of harm as well as only impact the individual, but also family, friends and members of the community. [1] 

The more alcohol a person drinks, the more their blood alcohol content (BAC) rises which increases the effects and risk of harm. While individual variation will affect a person’s experience, a healthy adult may expect the following adverse effects as their blood alcohol content (BAC) increases: [5]


BACAdverse Effects
0.05% - 0.08 g% - Judgment and movement impaired
- Inhibitions reduced
0.08% - 0.15 g%- Speech slurred
- Balance and coordination impaired
- Reflexes slowed
- Visual attention impaired
- Unstable emotions
- Nausea, vomiting
0.15% - 0.30 g%- Unable to walk without help
- Apathetic, sleepy
- Laboured breathing
- Unable to remember events
- Loss of bladder control
- Possible loss of consciousness
Over 0.30 g%- Coma
- Death

[1] National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol: Commonwealth of Australia. Available at

[2] Loxley, W., Toumbourou, J., Stockwell, T.R., Haines, B., Scott, K., Godfrey, C., Waters, E., et al. (2004) The Prevention of Substance Use, Risk and Harm in Australia: A review of the Evidence. National Drug Research Institute and the Centre for Adolescent Health: Canberra

[3] Chikritzhs, T., Pascal, R. & Jones, P. (2004). Under-Aged Drinking Among 14-17 Year Olds and Related Harms in Australia. National Alcohol Indicators Bulletin No. 7, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University of Technology: Perth.

[4] ACT Health. (2016). Healthy Canberra, Australian Capital Territory Chief Health Officer’s Report 2016. ACT Government: Canberra ACT.

[5] Adapted from information provided by Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia. (2012).