Alcohol Advice This Festive Season

With the festive party season getting into full flow, the Public Health Agency (PHA) has offered helpful advice and safer drinking tips for those who choose to drink alcohol.

Many of us over-indulge at Christmas, but overdoing it with alcohol can have serious health consequences.

Michael Owen, the PHA's lead for Drugs and Alcohol, said: "Many of us like to have a drink at Christmas and we're not saying people shouldn't, but it's important that we enjoy ourselves safely.

"Many people do not realise that alcohol is a powerful drug and we need to be careful how we use it. Drinking too much has a negative impact on you and those around you.

"By setting a plan you can avoid binge drinking, which has been shown to have adverse effects on our health and safety."

Alcohol guidelines recommend that both men and women drink no more than 14 units per week. Anyone who reaches this amount is advised to split the units evenly over three days or more, rather than 'saving up' units for a particular day.

Mr Owen continued: "Binge drinking can have a major impact on your physical health, causing damage to the liver, heart, brain and stomach.

"Drinking too much can also affect our judgement, leading us to do things we wouldn't otherwise do and that we might regret later, such as fighting, public disorder, or falling causing injury.

"Because drinking too much can make you lose your inhibitions, you may take more risks when it comes to sex, such as not using condom, which increases your chances of getting a sexually transmitted infection such as chlamydia, HIV or hepatitis. It could also lead to an unplanned pregnancy.

"It's important that both men and women plan ahead, prepare for the possibility of sex, and carry condoms.
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"Alcohol can also have a major impact on your emotional wellbeing. Being hungover can make you feel anxious and low. Some people may already feel down over Christmas and drinking can make this worse.

"It is therefore important that people understand their drinking behaviour and explore their relationship with alcohol, whether it's a positive or negative one, so that they can enjoy the Christmas holiday."

The PHA also warned of the serious impact of mixing alcohol with other drugs, including prescription medication. This can increase the toxicity of the drug and can have a serious impact, even resulting in death.

For example, mixing alcohol and cocaine is a toxic mix, and could cause your heart to stop. The safest advice is to not take any other drug along with alcohol, or mix any other drugs at all, if you are planning on using them.

Top tips for safer drinking at Christmas:

• Eat before or while drinking and avoid salty snacks, which make you thirsty.

• Be assertive – don't be pressured into drinking more than you want or intend to.

• Know your limits and stick to them.

• Stay busy – don't just sit and drink. Dance or have a game of pool if you're at a pub.

• Try not to confuse large measures of alcohol with standard measures, eg a glass of wine served at a party or at home may be much larger than the standard 125ml.

• Keep track of your drinks and don't let people top up your drink until it's finished.

• Try alternating alcoholic drinks with water or other non-alcoholic drinks. Add plenty of mixer to your drinks to make them last longer.

• Avoid rounds, 'shouts' and kitties – drink at your own pace, not someone else's.

• Drink slowly – take sips, not gulps.

• Don't mix alcohol with any other drugs, including prescription medication.

Those planning on indulging this Christmas can also download the 'Know Your Units' app which helps people understand units and how to keep a watch on their drinking. The app features a unit guide and a virtual bar where users can total up their planned or actual drinks for the day/night and check whether they are keeping within the alcohol guidelines.

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