How to celebrate safely this holiday season

December 16, 2015 Providence Health Team

The holidays are almost here and that means parties, presents and too much egg nog. For some of us, it also can mean too much alcohol.

Holiday celebrations make December one of the busiest months on the nation’s roads. It’s also one of the most dangerous, and that’s why it has been designated National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. According to some of the most recent statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 733 people were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver in December 2013.

The coffee myth

It’s easy to underestimate the effects of alcohol. Long before we show signs of physical intoxication such as slurring words or stumbling, alcohol has undercut our decision-making abilities and driving skills. After a night of partying, many people believe they will be sober and ready to drive safely once they stop drinking and have some coffee. But impaired judgment, reaction time and coordination can last for hours as the body metabolizes alcohol.

Because people are so different, it is difficult to give specific advice about drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Some people believe they can calculate their blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, based on the length of time between drinks. But blood alcohol levels depend on many variables, including how much you weigh, how much food you have eaten before drinking and how much alcohol is in a drink.

What’s in your drink

A standard drink typically contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol. This translates into:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer, usually about 5 percent alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine, typically about 12 percent alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40 percent alcohol. This includes whiskey, rum, vodka, tequila and other liquor.

All states define driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or higher as a crime. You can get to that concentration quickly if you are a man and consume five or more drinks within about two hours, or if you are a woman and consume four or more drinks during that time. If you find yourself drinking more than usual during the holidays, it’s a good idea to pace yourself. Make every other drink nonalcoholic and have no more than one alcoholic drink per hour.

How much is too much?

Here’s how the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism breaks down blood alcohol concentration and impairment:

  • Mild impairment: 0.0 to 0.05 percent BAC
  • Increased impairment: 0.06 to 0.15 percent BAC
  • Severe impairment: 0.16 to 0.30 percent BAC
  • Life threatening: 0.31 percent to 0.45 percent BAC

Get home safely

It can be difficult to make good decisions when you are drinking too much, too fast, which can happen in social situations. The best thing you can do to stay safe is to not drink and drive. There are several ways to get home safely after a night of revelry. They key is to plan ahead:

  • Have a designated driver. This is not the person in your group who drank the least amount of alcohol during the evening – it’s the person who didn’t have any alcohol.
  • Make plans for a relative or friend to pick you up. Leave your keys at home and have a phone number handy to text your situation and plans to your driver.
  • Call a taxi. Yes, you will have to pay, but it will be a lot less than the $10,000 average cost of a DUI.

If you are a designated driver, drive with extra caution. Not everyone on the road may be driving sober. And if you suspect someone is driving drunk, call 911. You may save a life.

Do you or your family need a doctor? If so, find a local primary care provider here.

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