Susceptibility to Alcohol

Responsible Service of AlcoholPeople are affected by alcohol in different ways. Is it just the amount of alcohol consumed? Or do other factors influence how a person’s health and behaviour are affected by alcohol?

RSA staff should know the answer to this question.


Women tend to have a smaller body size and a higher proportion of body fat than men. For women, a given amount of alcohol is distributed over a smaller body volume with less absorption as alcohol is not taken up by fatty tissues. In addition, the ability to break down alcohol is limited by the size of the liver, and women on average have smaller livers than men. However, the higher level of risk-taking behaviour among men means that, over a lifetime, male risks exceed female risks for a given pattern of drinking.


In general, the younger and smaller a person is (e.g. children), the less tolerant they are to alcohol. Younger people also have less experience of drinking and its effects. In addition, puberty is often accompanied with risk-taking behaviours (such as an increased risk of drinking, sometimes, in association with other dangerous physical activities, or risky sexual behaviour).

Finally, as people age, their tolerance to alcohol decreases, and the risk of falls, driving accidents, and adverse interactions with medications increases.

Mental health and sleeping patterns

People who have, or are prone to, mental illness such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia may have worse symptoms after drinking.

Alcohol can also disrupt the later part of the sleep cycle, which may trigger a variety of mental health problems in people who are already prone to these conditions.

Medication and drug use

Alcohol can interact with a wide range of prescription and non prescription medications, herbal preparations and illicit drugs. This can alter the effect of the alcohol or the medication, and has the potential to cause serious harm both to the drinker and to others.

People who already have health conditions caused or exacerbated by alcohol, such as alcohol dependence, cirrhosis of the liver, alcoholic hepatitis, or pancreatitis are at risk of the condition becoming worse if they drink alcohol.

Family history of alcohol dependence

People who have a family history of alcohol abuse and dependence, (particularly among first-degree relatives), have an increased risk of developing dependence themselves.