Drinking Facts

Myth: Beer doesn’t get you as drunk as the hard stuff.

Fact: Alcohol is alcohol. One 12-ounce can of beer, one 4-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of vodka all impair you at the same rate.

Myth: Cold showers, fresh air, or hot coffee will sober you up.

Fact: Time is the only thing that will get the alcohol out of your system.  It takes about one hour for every drink.

Myth: Eating a meal before you drink will stop you from getting drunk.

Fact: Drinking on a full stomach slows down the process of the alcohol entering your bloodstream. It doesn’t prevent it.

Myth:  Mixing energy drinks with alcohol makes you less drunk.

Fact: Energy drinks have a lot of sugar and caffeine in them. This makes people feel more alert and people are tricked into thinking they are less drunk.  They may even keep on drinking because they don’t feel sleepy and have lots of energy. This can trick a person into thinking that drinking more alcohol will be “safe” when in fact they are becoming more impaired.

Myth: When you have a hangover the best medicine is another drink first thing in the morning.

Fact: Drinking to reduce your hangover is a bad idea. You're really just delaying the pain.

Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol enters your system through your stomach and intestines. Once it’s in your bloodstream, it reaches other parts of the body fast. It actually gets to your brain almost immediately. Alcohol stays in your body until it is broken down by your liver and eventually leaves through breath, sweat and pee. The short-term effects of alcohol can last for a day or two, depending on how much you drink.

Alcohol slows down activities in the brain and spinal cord that control body movements, thinking, reasoning and emotions.  When you drink, what you feel and how you think changes. One of the first things to go are the things you do that your sober brain would normally control. You may become more talkative, confident, willing to take risks, and more okay with sexual behaviour that your sober brain wouldn’t be okay with.

There is no exact “safe” level of booze that works for everyone. Drinking can slowly damage your body over time causing a wide range of serious health problems that you may not realize are due to too much alcohol.

The Hangover

A hangover is the gross feeling you get after drinking too much alcohol. It can include a headache, nausea, dehydration, sensitivity to light and noise, feeling depressed or having diarrhea.

The actual causes of hangovers aren’t fully known. One of the main problems is dehydration because drinking alcohol makes you pee more often. The body sends water straight to the kidneys instead of reabsorbing it, which is why you might notice that you need to go to the bathroom more often.

Because the body is dehydrated, it sends signals that it needs more fluids – leaving you with a dry mouth and extreme thirst.

Your organs need lots of water to function properly, and a lot of the fluids your body needs when you are drinking alcohol are taken from the brain. This makes your brain shrink and pull on the membranes that connect it to the skull, giving you a killer headache!

Mixing Alcohol & Other Drugs

When alcohol and drugs are used at the same time, it can change the effect of the drugs. That’s why when people use a prescribed drug, the pharmacist or their health care provider will warn them if it is dangerous to drink alcohol while they’re on it.

Mixing alcohol with other drugs is gambling with your health – you never know what the effect will be. Alcohol will almost always exaggerate the effects of the other drugs.  The result can be anything from being very thirsty, getting a sore stomach, to your heart stopping and death.

Drinking and smoking weed can cause your body to absorb the active ingredient in marijuana (THC) faster, making you feel too high too fast. Alcohol and cocaine can lead to aggressive behaviour and increase the risk of a heart attack or even death. If you drink while you’re on ecstasy, you run a serious risk of becoming severely dehydrated.  Alcohol is involved in most ecstasy-related deaths.

 

Alcohol & Sex

When youth are drinking, they are more likely to have unprotected sex with people they would not normally have sex with.  Making decisions about the type of sexual behaviour that is okay for you is best made when you are sober.

 

Alcohol & Emotions

Alcohol makes our emotions and feelings bigger and stronger.  Some people get happy.  Others get angry, depressed, or burst into tears.

Alcohol slows down the central nervous system which controls thinking, reasoning and emotions. It also affects the brain’s limbic system which factors in to our emotions and behaviour. Under the influence of alcohol, the limbic system, which would normally keep our emotions in check, allows mood swings and big emotional ups and downs to occur.

With all these side effects of alcohol going on in your head, it can be difficult to put problems into perspective. Because alcohol affects your judgment, situations can seem much worse when you’ve been drinking.

Drinking too much might also make you say things you don’t mean to people you care about – especially if you speak to friends or family when you’re drunk.

Problems with Booze

Alcohol is involved in more crimes and more deadly accidents in cars, trucks and boats than any other drug.  Getting very drunk can kill you. When a drunk person “passes out” and throws up, they can choke to death on their own vomit.

Women who drink during pregnancy risk giving birth to a baby who will grow into a person with serious lifelong problems. These can include physical problems and brain damage. The more the pregnant woman drinks, the greater the risk becomes of having a child with these problems.  To be completely safe, never drink when you're pregnant or planning to get pregnant.  

Abusing alcohol can cause major physical and mental health problems. Drinking too much, too often, can lead to addiction or even death.

 

Alcohol & Pregnancy

If you drink when you’re pregnant, your baby drinks too. Alcohol passes right from your body to your baby’s body. The alcohol can hurt your baby even before you feel its effects. And it stays in your baby longer than it stays in you. Any drink with alcohol in it can hurt your baby. Many people think only "hard liquor" like rum, vodka, or whiskey can hurt your baby. They’re wrong! Coolers, cider, wine, beer and liqueurs all contain the same kind of alcohol as "hard liquor.” Cooking wine, mouthwash, cleaning products, and other liquids also have alcohol in them but you aren’t supposed to drink them. And, if you drink them, they can hurt your baby too. 

If you drink when you’re pregnant, your baby is at risk of being born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) which will last their whole life. Any and all of the following can happen to children born with FASD:

  • Their brain is permanently damaged, so they have trouble following simple instructions or remembering things.
  • They're small and don't grow normally.
  • Their faces may look different, such as small eyes and thin lips.
  • They're often colicky babies and hyperactive children.
  • They might have trouble seeing, hearing or speaking.
  • They might have heart or kidney trouble.

When the children get older:

  • They often can’t control how they act and get along with other people.
  • They have difficulty paying attention and learning at school.
  • They struggle with depression and may have drug and alcohol problems.
  • They have a hard time holding a job.
  • They often get into trouble with the law.

Binge Drinking

Guys who drink five or more drinks in a row or women who drink four or more drinks in a row – are binge drinking.  Binge drinkers drink to get drunk.

Short term binge drinking can lead to difficulty concentrating, blackouts, memory gaps and mood changes. Long term binge drinking can cause serious physical and mental health problems. 

People who binge drink are more likely to take risks they wouldn’t take if they were sober, like driving drunk, or injuring themselves or others.  They may also have unprotected sex and do other risky things.

Overdoing it on booze when you’re young, especially in early adolescence (before age 15), may lead to long-term changes in your brain which can make you more likely to develop alcoholism later on. 

Download Drink Chart

Alcohol Poisoning

Drinking too much can end up in alcohol poisoning – which can kill you. Alcohol poisoning is the most life threatening result of binge drinking. When someone drinks too much alcohol, it affects things that the body does automatically, like breathing. 

Signs of Alcohol Poisoning:

  • Mental confusion
  • Coma, can’t be wakened
  • Vomiting
  • Shakes or Seizures
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there)
  • Less than eight breaths in a minute
  • 10 or more seconds between breaths
  • Bluish, pale skin colour

If you think someone has alcohol poisoning, get medical help.  Don’t try to guess if it might be okay to let them “sleep it off.”

Blacking Out

Blacking out is not the same as “passing out” – which is when you lose consciousness. To people around you, passing out looks like falling asleep. Blacking out is different. 

During a blackout, a person can seem to be aware of what is going on and they can talk and be active. They can also do extremely dangerous things like driving a vehicle, operating power equipment, or even shooting a gun.

Blackouts don’t just happen to alcoholics. Binge drinkers are also at risk of blackouts.

Two types of blackouts are common. Both involve extreme risks. 

One is called an “en bloc” blackout and the other is called a “fragmentary” blackout. 

People who have an “en bloc” blackout can’t remember anything that happened during the blackout period. 

People who have “fragmentary” blackouts can remember some events from the blackout period but can be totally unaware that other memories are missing.

Getting Hooked

Physical dependence/addiction means that the person’s body needs alcohol to feel physically normal. If they stop drinking alcohol, they feel a physical need to drink. But that physical need goes away with a few drinks.  People who abuse alcohol may also have hallucinations and seizures, or get the shakes if they can’t get access to booze.  This is called “DTs.” In extreme cases they could die if not treated at a clinic or hospital.

Psychological dependence/addiction means that the person’s mind needs alcohol to feel normal. They only feel able to handle everyday living when they drink alcohol. If they stop drinking for a period of time they may feel anxiety, depression or anger. They may even lose touch with reality, hear voices or see things that aren’t really there.

Abusing alcohol in the long-term can lead to serious damage to your stomach, liver, kidneys, muscles and your brain. As a teenager, your body is still developing, so damage done to it now can affect you the rest of your life. Other health problems tied to long-term alcohol abuse are liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure and some kinds of cancer.

Your Brain On Booze

Drinking alcohol can affect your brain as it develops.  Since your brain is not fully developed until your mid-20s, young people are at greater risk than adults when it comes to the impacts of long-term alcohol use on their brains. The teen brain goes through dramatic changes in its structure, neuron connectivity (“wiring”), and physiology. These changes in your brain affect everything from emotions to judgment.

Your brain keeps growing into your early 20s. Drinking alcohol during that time can damage short-term and long-term brain growth and that damage can be permanent.

And it's not just heavy drinking that can impact you –teens who drink half as much alcohol as adults can still suffer the same negative effects. Teens are more likely to have blackouts, memory loss, and alcohol poisoning from drinking, and they’re more likely to damage their ability to remember things in the future.

Teens who drink often perform worse in school, are more likely to fall behind, and have an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence.

Underage Drinking

In the Northwest Territories you have to be 19 to drink legally. You also have to be 19 to legally buy beer, wine, spirits, coolers or other drinks that contain alcohol.

It is against the law to give alcohol to anyone under 19. This includes buying alcohol for someone under 19, gifting alcohol to them or selling alcohol to them.

Drinking & Driving

Drinking and driving is a serious problem in the Northwest Territories.  The NWT has the highest rate of drinking and driving in Canada.

It’s illegal to drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs. This includes cars, trucks, skidoos, ATVs, boats and other motorized vehicles. Under Canadian law, it is a criminal offence to drive with a blood alcohol concentration over 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres (.08). If you get caught drinking and driving, you could face a fine of up to $2000, go to jail for up to 5 years, and get your license taken away for up to 3 years.

The cost of your car insurance is also likely to sky-rocket – it’s possible that no insurance company will want to insure the vehicle at all.

If you are charged with impaired driving, you will face an automatic suspension of your driving privileges. No conviction is necessary. Any driver who is charged with having a breath or blood sample over .08, or refuses a demand for a breath or blood sample, will get suspended automatically from driving for 90 days. This is on top of whatever the court decides.