Australian Institute of Criminology

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Pure alcohol is a colourless, tasteless liquid produced by fermentation, a process in which water and yeast act on sugars from a grain, vegetable or fruit. When discussed as a drug, "alcohol" becomes the collective term for a wide variety of alcoholic beverages. Most are commercially produced and contain a written indication of their alcoholic content on the packaging.

Alcohol is the most widely used recreational drug in Australia and is responsible for a large proportion of drug-related health problems and deaths.


Alcohol is a depressant, slowing the activity of the central nervous system. This leads to reduced inhibitions, as well as a deterioration in coordination and reflexes. Consumption of alcohol can lead to aggression, confusion, nausea, vomiting, unconsciousness and risk taking behaviour.

Chronic use of alcohol can lead to dependence and cause liver damage, brain damage, shaking, high blood pressure and many other health problems.

Alcohol's effects on co-ordination and reflexes make it a major factor in accidents. Alcohol is believed to be involved in a third of serious car crashes and a third of drownings. Alcohol is strongly linked to anti-social behaviour and violence, with an estimated three-quarters of assaults related to alcohol use.

Method of use

Alcohol is generally drunk.

Australian law

There are a range of laws relating to the production, distribution, sale and consumption of alcohol within Australia. The sale and supply of alcohol to people under the age of 18 years is prohibited throughout Australia.

The ability to sell alcohol is restricted to licence entities from licensed premises, although supply without gain is generally allowed. Licensed premises are further restricted in relation to the times they can serve alcohol, dress and behaviour standards of their patrons and the availability of meals. The consumption of alcohol in a variety of public places is outlawed.

Individuals who become intoxicated by alcohol may be apprehended by police and either charged or taken to a safe place until the effects have worn off sufficiently. Drivers of vehicles must ensure that their blood alcohol levels remain below those prescribed by law for their class of drivers licence. For unrestricted licences this level is 0.05%.

Alcohol is a causal factor in many street offences, disorder and assaults. Participating in these types of behaviours places people at risk of arrest and criminal conviction.

Prevalence, market and production in Australia

Alcohol is the most widely used drug in this country, with more than 13 million people aged 14 years and over indicating in a 2004 survey that they had consumed alcohol at least once in the previous 12 months.

Although restricted by licensing laws, alcohol is readily available to adults in Australia. There are a number of surveys which suggest that the unlawful acquisition of alcohol by minors is also relatively easy.

Most alcohol is commercially produced and although some people manufacture alcoholic beverages, this is generally for their own use.

Street names

Alcoholic beverages are generally known by their type (e.g. beer, wine), commercial name or the type of container (e.g. flagon, stubbie).