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Alcohol Abuse Facts

Substance abuse touches many lives, maybe even yours.

How it works

Alcohol is a depressant, it slows the nervous system. Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine and spreads quickly throughout the body. The amount of pure alcohol in your bloodstream is your blood alcohol content (BAC). To simplify things, say you had 10,000 drops of blood, each in its own compartment. If you replaced one drop of blood with alcohol, the blood to alcohol ratio (BAC) would be .01. Two drops would be .02. The legal level of impairment in Canada is .08%. The time between when we first drink and begin to feel the effects of alcohol varies depending on how fast we drink, our size, and gender. Within 20 minutes, the BAC can rise significantly.

Chain reaction

Drinking alcohol sets off a chain reaction, so to speak, in our brains. Each stage of impairment signals that a new area of the brain is being affected. As we continue to drink, as new areas of our brains are affected, already-felt reactions grow worse – or further impaired. Alcohol follows a set path to other areas of the brain resulting in a predictable pattern of early and total intoxication. The last area of the brain affected by alcohol is our brain stem, which controls involuntary reflexes like telling your lungs to breathe, your heart to pump. At toxic levels, (BAC of .35% - .50%) alcohol slows or stops the functions in the brain stem often resulting in death without early intervention.

The damage has already spread ...

But long before alcohol affects the brain stem, it has already been absorbed by the major organs in our bodies. Alcoholism is known to cause:

  •     inflammation of the liver leading to cirrhosis
  •     lowered blood pressure increasing chances of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure
  •     irritation of the stomach lining leading to ulcers
  •     inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
  •     increased risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, larynx and oesophagus
  •     sexual dysfunction in men

Combining Alcohol and Drugs

It’s very common for people to combine illicit and prescription drugs with alcohol. When this is done, the effects of other depressants (like marijuana) are increased, or the effects of stimulants (such as cocaine) are reduced (usually). Combining alcohol and drugs is always dangerous because you have no idea how the two will react inside you. Combining depressants can result in lowered heart and breathing rates for instance. Combining alcohol with stimulants causes stress to your heart and other organs and keeps you from feeling the full effect of either substance, increasing your chance of overdose.

Canadian Statistics
  • Alcohol is the most abused substance in Canada. Learn More
  • Over 40% of crimes committed are associated with substance use. Learn More
  • In Canada more than 3,000 babies a year are born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Learn More
  • Alcohol abuse cost Canadians nearly 15 billion a year. Learn More
  • An estimated 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually. Learn More
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