It’s not known as the party season for nothing: alcohol consumption in Britain increases by around 40% in December. Just make sure the booze enhances – rather than kills – the festive spirit, says Abi Jackson.
Whether it's sweet, steaming mulled wine, a soothing eggnog or a few cheeky glasses of sherry in time for the Queen's Speech, alcohol is as big a part of Christmas as mistletoe and mince pies. And why not? Enjoying a couple of drinks with family and friends can be one of the joys of the season.
But, as the charity Drinkaware points out, alcohol can also lead to serious consequences, including health damage and accidents.
Alcohol slows down the brain's responses, making us clumsier than usual, with slower reaction speed and impaired judgment. It can also make us more likely to take risks – not a great combination.
People who have been drinking usually suffer more serious accidents than those who haven't and, according to Drinkaware, alcohol is the single biggest cause of accidents in the home. Of the 4,000 fatal domestic accidents in the UK every year, 400 are alcohol-related.
Around one in three fires are caused by people under the influence of alcohol, and two thirds of those who are admitted to hospital or die as a result of burns have been drinking.
However, you don't need to abstain from drinking altogether. Simply spare some time to think about how you can drink more sensibly to ensure your Christmas is merry in all the right ways.
watch where you are
If you're responsible for cooking the festive feast, laying the table with candles or keeping the fire going, take it easy on the booze and ask tipsy family members to keep out of the way until the work's done and hazards are cleared away. Scalds can happen in a flash and a knocked candle could lead to a devastating blaze in moments.
On nights out and at parties, pace yourself by alternating alcohol with soft drinks or water so that you don't get as drunk, and only allow your glass to be topped up once it's empty so you can keep track of how much you've had. Keep an eye on your friends if they're behaving recklessly – dancing on the bar might raise a few laughs but a fall could be nasty.
If you've just had a good time with your friends, the last thing you want is to come to harm on your journey home. When intoxicated you're more vulnerable to accidents on the way home – especially in the dark.
There's safety in numbers so try to travel home with a group if you can. Ideally, you'll have planned how you're getting home in advance but it's always a good idea to make sure your phone's topped up and you have licensed taxi numbers to hand should you need them.
Another risk factor that can't be ignored is drink-driving. Despite hard-hitting campaigns and the fact that it's against the law, some people still can't resist getting behind the wheel after one too many. Though incidents have fallen by more than 75 per cent in the last two decades, traffic accidents are still a leading cause of alcohol-related deaths among men aged 16-24. It's not just a case of the drunk driver themselves being in danger – it puts other road users and pedestrians at risk too.
Even if you've just 'had a couple', and your house is just 10 minutes from the pub, alcohol can dramatically impair your vision and reaction times, not to mention making you more likely to speed. If you think there's a chance you could be tempted to drive, leave the car at home, or ask your friends to confiscate your keys and call you a taxi if it comes to it.
Don't be persuaded to accept a lift with somebody who's been drinking.
morning after night before
Hangovers may be temporary, but they can still make you feel awful. At worse, you'll be stuck in bed all day, unable to stand up without vomiting, your head on fast-spin, or you'll have a thumping headache, tired, bleary eyes and a sore throat. Hangovers are likely to affect your mood too and can leave you feeling gloomy, depressed and anxious. They don't always pass after 24 hours – you could feel run-down for days, or end up more prone to infections like colds, as getting drunk regularly could give your immune system a battering.
Prevention's better than cure – so don't knock 'em back too quickly. Alternate booze with soft drinks and slow down once you've hit the tipsy mark.
Many hangover symptoms are linked to dehydration. "Stay well hydrated during the day to prepare for your night out," advises Dr Emma Derbyshire, nutritionist and consultant to the Natural Hydration Council (naturalhydrationcouncil.org.uk). "Quench thirst with water or juice before you have an alcoholic drink and, at the end of the evening, keep water by your bed and drink whenever you feel thirsty."
Avoid that hair of the dog. Instead, opt for a soluble painkiller to ease headaches and an antacid to settle your stomach.
Fresh air and exercise will help. "Exercise has been linked to the release of endorphins – your 'feel good' hormones that will help get you back to yourself again," says Justin Way, a personal trainer.
BINGE DRINK DISASTER
While people who drink heavily over a long period of time are most at risk of health problems such as liver disease, serious damage can be caused by short bouts of heavy boozing, too.
According to Chris Day, professor of liver medicine at Newcastle University, consuming more than eight units a day if you're a man and more than five units a day if you're a woman, for two or three weeks, is enough to cause 'fatty liver' – which happens when alcohol stops the liver from sending fat around the body to be stored, instead causing it to clog up. Binge drinking can also lead to heart problems, and there's the risk of suffering alcohol poisoning or choking on your own vomit after a very heavy booze binge.
TOP TIPPLE TIPS
If you're concerned about binge drinking, make a plan of action at the start of the night – set a sensible drinks limit and ask your friends to support you in sticking to it.
Abdominal discomforts, feeling sick and loss of appetite can sometimes be signs of 'fatty liver'. See your doctor if you are concerned.
If you or somebody else suddenly becomes severely ill during or after a night out, and you're concerned, seek medical help or call an ambulance.
For more information and advice about responsible drinking visit www.drinkaware.co.uk