The holidays are a time when many of us get together to celebrate and spend time with friends and family. If you spend any time on social media you’ve probably seen videos and recipes for some festive beverages, too. Many people tend to drink more than they normally do this time of year and some will suffer adverse consequences due to over celebrating. Whether it be a fall or a traffic crash, we often put ourselves and others in danger because we don’t drink responsibly.
These are some myths and facts about the effects of alcohol consumption:
Myth: Drink coffee. Caffeine will sober you up.
Fact: Caffeine may help with drowsiness but not with the effects of alcohol on decision-making or coordination. The body needs time to metabolize alcohol and then to return to normal. Also, when caffeine wears off, your body will need to deal with post-caffeine sleepiness. There are no quick cures—only time will help.
Myth: You can drive as long as you are not slurring your words or acting erratically.
Fact: The coordination needed for driving is compromised long before you show signs of intoxication and your reaction time is slowed. Plus, the sedative effects of alcohol increase your risk of nodding off or losing attention behind the wheel.
Myth: The warm feeling you get from drinking alcohol insulates you from the cold of winter. When you’re drinking, there’s no need to wear a coat when it’s cold outside.
Fact: Alcohol widens the tiny blood vessels right under the skin, so they quickly fill with warm blood. This makes you feel warm or hot, and can cause your skin to flush and perspire. But your body temperature is actually dropping, because while alcohol is pulling warmth from your body’s core to the skin surface, it is also depressing the area of your brain that controls temperature regulation. In cold environments, this can lead to hypothermia. So, wear a coat when it’s cold outside, particularly if you are drinking alcohol.
Despite the potential dangers, myths about drinking persist, which—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
Those of you who enjoy a few beverages may not recognize that your decision making abilities and driving skills are diminished long before you show physical signs of any intoxication. At first, alcohol acts as a stimulant, so you may feel upbeat and excited. However, the more you drink, the more your inhibitions will be diminished which can lead to reckless decisions. Some of you may become aggressive and even violent. Continued drinking can cause slurred speech and loss of balance and even blackouts. At higher levels, alcohol acts as a depressant, which causes the drinker to become sleepy and in some cases pass out. At even higher levels, drinkers face the danger of life-threatening alcohol overdose due to the suppression of vital life functions.
Alcohol’s Effects Diminish Slowly
During an evening of merriment, it’s easy to misjudge how long alcohol’s effects last. For example, many people believe that they will begin to sober up—and be able to 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, resulting in impaired judgment and coordination for hours.
Before You Celebrate—Plan Ahead
Of course, no one intends to harm anyone when celebrating during the holiday season. Yet, violence and traffic fatalities associated with alcohol misuse persist, and myths about drinking live on—even though scientific studies have documented how alcohol affects the brain and body.
Because individuals differ, the specific effects of alcohol on an individual will vary. But certain facts are clear—there’s no way to make good decisions when you are intoxicated and there’s no way to sober up faster.
So, this holiday season, do not underestimate the effects of alcohol. Don’t believe you can beat them, or they may beat you or even kill someone else.
Here are some tips to keep in mind if you host a holiday gathering:
- Offer a variety of nonalcoholic drinks—water, juices, sparkling sodas. Nonalcoholic drinks help counteract the dehydrating effects of alcohol. Also, the other fluids may slow the rate of alcohol absorption into the body and reduce the peak alcohol concentration in the blood.
- Provide a variety of healthy foods and snacks. Food can slow the absorption of alcohol and reduce the peak level of alcohol in the body by about one-third. It can also minimize stomach irritation and gastrointestinal distress the following day.
- Help your guests get home safely—use designated drivers and taxis. Anyone getting behind the wheel of a car should not have any alcohol.
- Take an Uber—the app is free to download. Just put in a credit card number associated with your profile and you’re set. Take an Uber to and from the party and you won’t have to worry about how you’ll get home.
- If you are a parent, understand the underage drinking laws—and set a good example.
Remember that many prescription and over the counter medications will have an adverse effect with any amount of alcohol consumption. Drink responsibly and have a safe holiday season! We want to see you in 2019!