April is Alcohol Awareness Month. As one of the most widely used drug substances in the world, alcohol is often part of socializing with family and friends, but it is easy to overdo it. So, let’s take a moment to look at our drinking habits and determine if we’re making healthy, safe choices.
A friend, who shall not be named, was first made aware of the not- so-pleasant effects of overdoing alcohol during her sophomore year of college. Before then (being under 21 and a law-abiding citizen), she didn’t drink much. And then one fateful night, she found herself at the ubiquitous off-campus party, where she was handed a red keg cup full of “electric watermelon” – a concoction of hard liquors, melon liqueur and lemon-lime soda. Not knowing her limit for fruity flavored beverages, she had many within a short amount of time. At some point in the evening, her legs felt fuzzy, the room began to spin and her roommate gave me the “uh oh” look reserved for those about to make a spectacle. Luckily for my friend, her roommate shoved her in cab and got her home safely. Electric watermelons were apparently fun and tasty going down, not so much coming back up. (Her roommate had her back and held her hair that night – a good roommate can make all the difference during a college drinking experience.)
The moral of this story is heavy drinking can give you one bad evening in the bathroom. But it can also do much more to put your health at risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports and “getting drunk” can result in:
- Impaired brain function resulting in poor judgment, reduced reaction time, loss of balance and motor skills or slurred speech
- Dilation of blood vessels causing a feeling of warmth but resulting in rapid loss of body heat
- Increased risk of certain cancers, stroke and liver diseases, particularly when excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed over extended periods of time
- Damage to a developing fetus if consumed by pregnant women
- Increased risk of motor-vehicle traffic crashes, violence and other injuries
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism notes that while many adults drink moderately and responsibly without complications, alcohol-related problems are among the most significant public health issues in the world. Problems often result from drinking too much, too fast or too often – a trifecta of bad beverage behavior. So here are some steps to drink responsibly (for those who do not have a drinking problem, are of legal age to drink alcohol and are not pregnant):
- Only drink alcoholic beverages in moderation, which is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men
- Have a designated driver or plan an alternative way home, such as a taxi or bus. And it goes without saying, never drive a car if you have been drinking.
- Keep track of what you’re drinking and pace yourself. If you’re going to have more than one, drink nonalcoholic beverages in between drinks and limit yourself to one alcoholic drink per hour.
- Eat a meal or snack before and while drinking alcohol – don’t drink on an empty stomach.
- If you are taking medication, including over-the-counter drugs, check with your doctor before drinking alcohol. Alcohol can intensify the effects of many drugs and interact with other drugs, making them ineffective or dangerous.
More information about alcohol and your health can be found at the National Institutes of Health “Rethinking Drinking” web page. And one last word of sage advice: Don’t drink electric watermelons out of a keg cup. Trust me.