The Truth About Holiday Spirits
We all want to celebrate during the holidays and more people are likely to drink beyond their limits during this season than at other times of the year. Despite the potential dangers, myths about drinking persists that, for some, can prove fatal. Scientific studies supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provide important information that challenges these widespread, yet incorrect beliefs about how quickly alcohol affects the body and how long the effects of drinking last.
Alcohol's Effects Begin Quickly
Holiday revelers may not recognize that critical decision-making abilities and driving-related skills are already diminished long before a person shows physical signs of intoxication. Initially, alcohol acts as a stimulant, and people who drink may feel upbeat and excited. However, alcohol soon decreases inhibitions and judgment, and can lead to reckless decisions.
As alcohol consumption increases, reaction time suffers and behavior becomes poorly controlled and sometimes even aggressive - leading to fights and other types of violence. Continued drinking causes the slurred speech and loss of balance that we typically associate with being drunk. At higher levels, alcohol acts as a depressant, which causes the drinker to become sleepy and in some cases, pass out. At these levels, alcohol can also cause blackouts - which are periods of amnesia where a person does not remember what happened while he or she was intoxicated. The intoxicated person actively engages in behaviors like walking and talking but does not create memories for these or other events that occur during the blackout. At very high levels, drinkers face the danger of life-threatening alcohol poisoning due to the suppression of vital life functions.
During an evening of drinking, it's also easy to misjudge how long alcohol's effects last. For example, many people believe that they will begin to sober up - and drive safely - once they stop drinking and have a cup of coffee. The truth is that alcohol continues to affect the brain and body long after the last drink has been finished. Even after someone stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream, impairing judgement and coordination for hours.
Before you Celebrate - Plan Ahead
- Pace yourself. Know what constitutes a standard drink and have no more than one per hour - and no more than 4 drinks for men or 3 for women per day.
- Have "drink spacers" - make every other drink a nonalcoholic one.
- Make plans to get home safely. Remember that a designated driver is someone who hasn't had any alcohol, not simply the person in your group who drank the least.
From: NIH National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism