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Alcohol is a flammable liquid whose principal ingredient is ethanol. It is considered to be a depressant drug because it slows down brain functions. Alcohol impairs the brain's activity, which is why when someone is drunk they act differently than when they are sober.


Everyone reacts differently to alcohol. For example, teens usually have a lower tolerance for alcohol than adults and females tend to have lower tolerance levels than men. This is because alcohol dissolves in water and women have less water in their body than men. The weight of the individual also plays a role in their tolerance level; the smaller the person is, the quicker their body will absorb the alcohol (CAMH).

When you drink alcohol faster than your body can eliminate it, you become drunk, or intoxicated. While some people feel happy and excited while drunk, other people may become depressed. Some signs of intoxication include: lower inhibitions, impaired judgment, flushed skin, slurred speech, slower reflexes, blurred vision and/or blacking out.

Regular alcohol consumption may gradually bring about liver damage, brain damage, heart disease and increase one's risk for certain types of cancer. Chronic heavy use can also result in disruptions of the drinker's social, family, and working life (CAMH) (Health Canada). See the Addiction section below for more information.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking involves consuming many alcoholic beverages in one sitting. For it to be considered binge drinking, a female needs to drink four or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting, while for males the standard is five or more (CAMH: Binge Drinking). When the alcohol content in your body gets too high, the alcohol begins to act like a poison – which is what people mean when they say someone has alcohol poisoning (CAMH). Alcohol poisoning and severe intoxication can be fatal. If your stomach can't get rid of the alcohol (by throwing up or getting it pumped out), it can result in seizures, comas, and even death.

You should call an ambulance if:

  • You are unable to wake someone who has passed out from drinking too much;
  • They start vomiting in their sleep;
  • They start to have seizures;
  • They have slow and irregular breathing and heart rate; and/or
  • They are bluish, pale and/or have cold skin.

Always stay with the individual. Try to prevent them from choking on their vomit by using the Bacchus Maneuver(a technique used to turn a person's body to prevent them from stopping breathing and/or choking) and put them in the recovery position (CAMH: Binge Drinking). For more information on binge drinking, visit the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health website.

Impaired Driving

Impaired driving occurs when someone drives while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Impaired driving is illegal and dangerous for the driver, pedestrians and others on the road. For more information on impaired driving, check out our "Impaired and Distracted Driving" fact sheet.

Mixing Alcohol with Energy Drinks or Drugs

Some alcoholic drinks call for the mixing of alcohol and energy drinks. Alcohol, a depressant, slows down your body and brain, while caffeine has the opposite effect; it increases alertness and speeds up functions. If you combine the two, energy drinks can mask the effects of alcohol. This can lead you to drink way too much without realizing it, and experience other effects like nausea, vomiting, alcohol poisoning and dehydration. Since some signs of impairment may be masked, mixing these two kinds of drinks can also make it more likely that you will try risky things, like driving while impaired (Healthy Canadians).

Mixing alcohol with other substances such as drugs (illegal or prescription) can also have serious effects such as severe impairment, accidental overdosing and even death in some cases. Always talk to a doctor before drinking alcohol if you are taking medication or any kind of drugs.

Alcohol addiction or alcoholism is when someone drinks regularly for a long period of time despite knowing the risks. Alcohol addiction also involves both psychological dependence (ex: the person craves, and cannot stop thinking about alcohol) and physical dependence (ex: if you don't drink, you have withdrawal symptoms). Some signs that someone might be addicted to alcohol are:

  • Drinking more often than normal;
  • Keeping their drinking secret;
  • Drinking a bigger amount of alcohol than before;
  • School work or job is affected because of the drinking; and/or
  • Constantly getting drunk (CPHA).

Addiction to alcohol can start easily, but often is very hard to beat. Once addicted, alcohol can really impact your life – you might start fighting with your parents, family members or friends, and alcohol will take priority over other things in your life that you used to love, like sports or other hobbies (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health).

Tolerance and Withdrawal

When someone is dependent on alcohol and they all of a sudden don't have a drink for an extended period of time, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. The Healthy Canadians website says withdrawal "occurs when a person stops using a drug after a long period of regular use." Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • tremors;
  • nausea; and
  • seizures.

 In more severe cases, symptoms called "delirium tremors" may result, which include:

  • delusions;
  • hallucinations;
  • extreme confusion; and
  • a racing heartbeat.

Extreme withdrawal symptoms that go untreated could even result in death (CAMH).


It is illegal to: Possible consequences include:

Drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

  • Injuring or killing yourself or someone else
  • Losing your driver's license
  • Paying a fine
  • Possible jail time

Drink or possess alcohol if you are below the legal drinking age (which is 19 in most provinces and territories, with the exception of Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta where it is 18).

  • Your alcohol being taken away
  • Paying a fine
  • Police notifying your parents/guardians of the situation

Use a fake ID to buy alcohol or get into a bar

  • Your ID being taken away from you
  • Paying a fine
  • Being banned from that store/bar
  • Getting the person who made/gave you the ID in trouble (ex: they can be fined)

Buy alcohol for, or serve alcohol to someone who is under the legal drinking age (below the legal drinking age, which is 19 in most provinces and territories, with the exception of Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta where it is 18).

  • Paying a fine
  • Possible jail time
  • Police holding the individual (who provided the alcohol) responsible for any resulting issues (such as a car accident or alcohol poisoning)

For more information on drinking and driving laws, visit the Department of Justice - Criminal Code website.

Note: Each province and territory has different regulations and consequences for the alcohol-related issues mentioned above. Check out the regulations in your area for information specific to you (ex: British Columbia Liquor Control and Licensing Act, Manitoba Liquor Control Act, Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, Ontario Liquor License Act)

Sources: Transport Canada – Penalties for Impaired Driving Offences, Ontario Ministry of Transportation – Impaired Driving

What You Can Do


Dealing with alcoholism is never easy. If you think you are or someone close to you is suffering from an addiction to alcohol, you should talk about it with your parents, legal guardian, a friend, a teacher, a counselor, a doctor or any other health care professional that will know how to help you. You can also call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868, where they can provide anonymous phone counseling.


If you think a youth you know is dealing with an addiction or drug-related issue, talk to them about it. If they don't want to talk to you, provide them with other options such as:

  • going with them to seek help from a doctor, counselor, or other health care professional;
  • sharing youth-appropriate information with them, that they can look at on their own time; or
  • suggesting they contact Kids Help Phone  (1-800-668-6868), a free, 24-hour anonymous professional telephone counseling and live chat service.