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Commentary: Don't underestimate alcohol during the holidays

  • Published
  • By F. Allen Clawson
  • 72nd Operational Readiness Medical Squadron

The holiday season is already upon us and this is a time when many individuals find themselves celebrating at parties where alcoholic beverages are being served. It is important that everyone know what they are dealing with when it comes to consuming alcohol.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports that there are approximately 1.4 million driving under the influence arrests and more than 10,000 lives claimed by drunk drivers annually. It is especially during the holiday season, when people are off work, celebrating the season, that binge drinking and drinking and driving are more likely to occur.

During holiday celebrations, binge drinking may become a problem. Binge drinking is drinking to get drunk and is defined as five or more drinks for a man and four or more drinks for a woman in a two-hour period. What is a drink? One drink is 1.5 ounces of distilled liquor, 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer.

Some of the consequences to binge drinking are death from alcohol poisoning, aspiration and heart arrhythmias. Binge drinking is also linked to legal problems such as DUIs, public intoxication, drunk and disorderly, domestic violence and assaults.

Prolonged or heavy use can lead to liver damage and heart disease. This may sound extreme but technically, alcohol is a toxin. It is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, initially causing disinhibition, then acting as a depressant. A hangover from the night before is a sign that the body is going through withdrawal from alcohol.

One unfortunate consequence of the holiday season is a sharp increase in alcohol-related accidents and deaths. Many partygoers don't drink often, leaving them with low tolerance and more vulnerability to the alcohol's effects.

At the other extreme are problem drinkers who find plenty of social occasions to drink and may feel less inhibited at parties where alcohol is liberally served. Most of these folks more than likely drinking and driving.

If you are hosting a party and serving alcohol, here are some steps to ensure that all guests are comfortable and that alcohol does not become a problem:

· Never pressure anyone to have a drink.
· Offer a selection of non-alcoholic beverages as well as plenty of food.
· Stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the party ends.
· Don't serve alcohol to an intoxicated guest.
· Don't let anyone who is drunk or had more than the recommended drinks drive home.
· Promote having a plan and a designated driver prior to attending the party.

Because individuals are so different, it is difficult to give specific advice about drinking. But certain facts are clear, there's no way to speed up the brain's recovery from alcohol and no way to make good decisions when you are drinking too much, too fast.

This holiday season, do not underestimate the effects of alcohol. If you drink, have a plan:

· Set limits: no more than three drinks for the evening. Keep count.
· Pace yourself! Have drink spacers; make every other drink a nonalcoholic one.
· Call a taxi/friend/family member/supervisor.
· Have a designated driver.

Lastly, consider the consequences of an arrest or a potentially fatal crash. Do make plans to get home safely and remember that a designated driver is someone who hasn't had any alcohol, not simply the person in your group who drank the least. Have a safe holiday season!