Skip to main content

What happens when we get drunk?

When we drink alcohol, the drug enters the bloodstream very quickly and travels to every part of your body. The effects can usually be felt within a few minutes.

The effect alcohol has on you mainly depends on how much you drink. But people who are used to drinking a lot may not feel the effects as quickly as people who drink less. Other things can affect your own reaction to alcohol, like drinking on an empty stomach or your body type.

Read more: Why does alcohol affect people differently?

The stages of drunkenness

As the amount of alcohol in your blood increases, the effects on your body and behaviour follow a similar pattern, although the number of drinks needed to reach a certain stage of drunkenness varies from person to person.

A bit of a buzz - Feeling sociable and happy
  • You're talkative and you feel relaxed
  • Your self-confidence increases
  • You lose some of your inhibitions
  • Your alertness, coordination and reaction times may already be impaired, which is why it is best not to drive at all when you’re drinking

Getting out of it’ - Losing control and making bad decisions
  • Your decision-making and judgement get worse
  • You may lose your inhibitions and become more reckless
  •  You may be talking loudly and feeling extra happy or sad

‘Hammered’ - Staggering, confused
  • Your speech gets slurred and you get unsteady on your feet
  • Your sex drive may increase
  • Your judgement and self-control decrease, so you may do something you regret

‘Paralytic’- passing out and sick
  • You can’t think clearly and get confused easily
  • You may be drowsy or dizzy
  • You may get overly emotional, maybe aggressive or very depressed
  • You may stagger around and feel unstable on your feet, placing you at high risk of having an accident
  • You may have blackouts, so you can’t remember what you did
  • Men may find it hard to get and keep an erection
  • The alcohol may irritate your stomach and digestive system, so you may be sick (vomit) or have diarrhoea or heart burn

Unconsciousness, coma and death
  • Your brain and nervous system are not working properly - You’re out of control or unresponsive
  • You may show signs of alcohol poisoning, particularly if you have drunk the alcohol in a short space of time
  • You may pass out or wet yourself
  • Basic functions of your body, such as your breathing, heart rate and gag reflex may be affected
  • Your breathing and heart are dangerously affected
  • You can’t control your body temperature
  • You may go into a coma or die

Alcohol is responsible for 3 deaths each day in Ireland¹

Read more:

Why does alcohol make me ill when I drink too much? Alcohol poisoning

¹ Mongan, D. and Long, J. (2016) Alcohol in Ireland: consumption harm cost and policy response, HRB. Dublin.

service finder

Where to get help

Find your nearest support group, by selecting your county below