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Safe Festive Season

During the Christmas and New Year period there is an increase in festivities, parties, family gatherings, work functions and barbeques. While it's a great time of year, it can also be a time of excess, especially when it comes to alcohol.

The festive season is a good time to reflect on our drinking culture and the way we drink.

Research tells us that even when people intend to drink responsibly, it can be difficult to stick to this plan because getting drunk is often an accepted norm, there is often social pressure to drink and the setting makes it easy to drink large amounts.

One of the most important ways to create a less harmful drinking culture is to change the acceptance of drunkenness, and the problems that go with it.

To start changing the drinking culture and to help you to look after yourself, your friends and family, here are some tips to implement during the festive season and throughout the year.

Recommended drinking limits to stay at low risk for harm

Not everyone chooses to drink alcohol. But if you do drink, to stay at low risk of harm, health experts recommend:

  • For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
  • For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.
  • For children and young people under 18 years-of-age, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.
  • For women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.

Tips for individuals

  • Plan some alcohol-free days – grab a juice, mineral water or iced tea instead.
  • Plan activities for your family that don't involve alcohol. Even responsible alcohol use can send the message to your children that alcohol is a necessary part of everyday life. Show them that alcohol doesn't have to be part of every social situation to have a good time.
  • Set yourself some goals. New Year's is a great time to think about cutting down the amount of alcohol that you consume.
  • Avoid drinking on an empty stomach.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Look out for your family and friends.
  • Avoid combining alcohol with energy drinks.
  • Drink slowly and try drinks with lower alcohol content.
  • Remember that many drink serving sizes are often more than one standard drink which means your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) may be rising more quickly than you think. Check the label on the drink container for standard drink information.
  • Pour your own drinks so you can be sure of how much you have consumed.
  • If you are driving to the party, carpool with a few friends and decide who will be the designated driver at the start of the night.
  • Think about how much money you're prepared to spend and stick to a budget.

Hosting a party

Good parties don't just happen; they are a result of good planning and preparation. If you are hosting a party, remember you have a duty-of-care for the safety and wellbeing of your guests.

You and your guests can have a great time if you take responsibility for the way alcohol is made available and create a low risk environment for your guests. Some things to consider when planning your party can include (but are not limited to):

  • Host an alcohol-free party.
  • Don't provide alcohol to anyone under 18 years-of-age.
  • Provide food from the start to finish of the party. If it is an all-day event, space out the food so any latecomers can get some.
  • Leave some food out on the table.
  • Provide plenty of non-alcoholic refreshments and water.
  • Depending on the number of people invited, inform your neighbours and the police about your party.
  • Help your guests get home safely by encouraging them not to drive if they are going to drink or pre-arrange taxi's for the end of the party.

Helping guests to space their drinks:

  • Have lots of alternatives to alcohol available.
  • Avoid ‘topping up' other people's drinks so they can keep count of standard drinks.
  • Top up people's water glass instead of their alcohol glass.
  • Mix non-alcoholic drinks in the same esky as alcoholic drinks. That way people will see the non-alcoholic drinks when they go for a refill.
  • Leave jugs of water around the venue.

Taxi/Skipper:

  • Suggest to your friends they organise a skipper for the night (i.e. someone who isn't drinking alcohol and is happy to drive others home) and make sure everyone is clear about their responsibilities.
  • Let friends know they can sleep over if they need to.
  • Arrange lifts in advance to and from the party.
  • If a friend needs to take a taxi home instead of driving, offer to help them collect their car the next morning.

Myths and facts for the festive season

Alcohol does not have an adverse effect on your body unless you get really drunk.

There are a broad range of short and long-term harms associated with regular alcohol use. Even if you aren't drinking at levels that lead to drunkenness, regular drinking can cause a range of health, social and economic problems. For example even 2-3 glasses of alcohol a night, which may not seem a lot for some people, increases your risk of developing some cancers by 131%.1

If someone is very drunk or passes out after drinking, it's best to let them sleep it off.

While it might seem like a good idea, letting someone ‘sleep it off' can be dangerous. As alcohol is a depressant which affects the central nervous system, there's a possibility that a person won't wake up if they vomit and they could choke. If someone becomes unwell or passes out it is very important to treat it as an emergency and call for help and stay with the person.

Alcohol is a great way to relax and reduce stress.

The problem with using alcohol to relax and reduce stress is that it can lead to other health issues or make existing problems worse. It is important for those that choose to drink alcohol to stick within the recommended drinking guidelines.

Eating a big meal before you drink will keep you sober.

Once consumed, alcohol will be digested and enter the blood system. The presence of food in the stomach and digestive tract can slow down the alcohol's absorption but won't stop it. The only sure way is to not drink it in the first place. It's best for healthy adults to have no more than two standards drinks on any day or no more than four drinks on any one occasion.

Cold showers, fresh air or hot coffee help sober a person.

The only way to sober up after drinking is to give your body time to process the alcohol out of your system. Fresh air and hot coffee might make you feel better but won't get rid of the alcohol in your system, and having a shower when you're affected by alcohol can be dangerous if you lose your balance or fall asleep.

If I let my teenager have the occasional drink with the family at home they will learn to drink alcohol responsibly and they will be less likely to sneak out and try drinking with friends.

Research shows that when young people are introduced to alcohol at an earlier age, they tend to drink more, and are more likely to develop harmful drinking patterns. While traditionally, having alcohol available at home has been considered to positively role model drinking behaviour to young people, research now shows that the opposite is the more likely the case. Introducing children to alcohol at an earlier age is likely to support the idea that alcohol is not a harmful product.

 
References

1Zhao, J & Stockwell, T. 2013, Australian relative-risk estimates. University of Victoria Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia for the WA Drug and Alcohol Office.