Alcohol is a toxin the body wants to get rid of
When alcohol is consumed, the human body is alerted and will start to eliminate it. The liver does much of this process.
It takes around one hour for a healthy liver to process a single standard drink. This is only an average, a person's other health issues will impact this.
Drinking more than one standard drink in an hour will mean that the liver cannot keep up, and the alcohol will build up and start to be absorbed into the blood stream.
This leads to a range of impairments;
- Initially, the drinker will experience light-headedness and feelings of euphoria – generally these are pleasant. They are the early signs of impairment.
- Balance and movement will be affected – increasing the risk of falls and other injuries.
- Slowed reaction times – slowing essential skills needed for driving, cooking, looking after children etc.
- Impaired judgement – increasing the risk of aggression, and making poor choices such as driving, or getting into a car with someone intoxicated, or continuing to drink, or having sex you later regret.
- Changed mood and emotional state – this can lead to missing or misinterpreting social cues increasing the risk of aggression and violence, depression.
- “Hangover” – the after effects of heavy drinking can carry over into the next day. This might affect the ability to attend work, school or university, look after children or other responsibilities.
Continued consumption can lead to black-outs and alcohol poisoning.
As well as injuries and violence, heavy consumption of alcohol can have significant and long-term effects on the body including brain damage, liver damage and failure.
The law on intoxication
New Zealand does not have any laws against being intoxicated or drunk. Rather, the Police can apprehend persons if they are creating disorder.
There are a number of offences related to intoxication. Most of these relate to licensed premises. You can read them here.
For example, a licensed premises MUST NOT:
- Sell or supply alcohol to an intoxicated person
- Allow a person to become intoxicated on their premises
- Allow a person who is intoxicated to remain in the licensed premises
In addition, it is illegal for anyone under 18 to be drinking in a public place (without their parent/guardian).
Factors which facilitate heavy drinking in New Zealand
There are a number of factors in our environment which facilitate heavy drinking:
- licensed premises open late at night and early morning,
- a high number of licensed premises in an area
- high exposure to alcohol marketing and promotion,
- cheap alcohol products
- certain types of products such as Ready-to-drinks (RTDs)
- availability of higher strength beverages.
Screening for hazardous drinking
The earlier we intervene on hazardous drinking, the less harm will result.
Ideally, everyone who is seen by a health practitioner should be screened for alcohol use, and if found to drink hazardously, provided with brief intervention and referral to treatment.