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Binge drinking often a problem during holidays

First, alcohol targets the brain's center for decision-making processes and muscular coordination in the forebrain. Then it unhinges the mind's normal system of checks and balances, leaving emotions unchecked by affecting the midbrain. Finally, alcohol attacks the brain stem and the body's vital functions. Preventing alcohol incidents is a must for mission effectiveness. (Graphic illustration by Senior Airman Stephen Cadette)

First, alcohol targets the brain's center for decision-making processes and muscular coordination in the forebrain. Then it unhinges the mind's normal system of checks and balances, leaving emotions unchecked by affecting the midbrain. Finally, alcohol attacks the brain stem and the body's vital functions. Preventing alcohol incidents is a must for mission effectiveness. (Graphic illustration by Stephen Cadette)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The holiday season is upon us, and it's a time when many people find themselves celebrating at parties where alcoholic beverages are being served. Therefore, it is important that everyone know what they are dealing with when it comes to consuming alcohol.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports that in 2009, there were 1.4 million driving-under-the-influence arrests and drunk drivers claimed the lives of 10,839 people. Binge drinking and drinking and driving are more likely to occur during the holiday season when people are off work and celebrating the season.

Binge drinking is drinking to get drunk, and is defined as five or more drinks for a man and four or more drinks for a woman in a two-hour period. What is a drink? One drink is 1.5 ounces of distilled liquor, 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer.

Some of the consequences to binge drinking are death from alcohol poisoning, aspiration and heart arrhythmias, health officials said. Binge drinking is also linked to legal problems such as DUIs, public intoxication, drunk and disorderly, domestic violence and assaults. Of course, prolonged or heavy use can lead to liver damage and heart disease. Alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, initially causing disinhibition, then acting as a depressant. A hangover from the night before is a sign that the body is going through withdrawal from alcohol.

One unfortunate consequence of the holiday season is a sharp increase in alcohol-related accidents and deaths. Many partygoers don't drink often, leaving them with low tolerance and more vulnerability to the alcohol's effects, officials said. At the other extreme are problem drinkers who find plenty of social occasions to drink and may feel less inhibited at parties where alcohol is liberally served. Not to mention, most of these folks more than likely are drinking and driving.

If you are hosting a party and serving alcohol, here are some steps to ensure that all guests are comfortable and that alcohol does not become a problem:

-- Never pressure anyone to have a drink;
-- Offer a selection of non-alcoholic beverages as well as plenty of food;
-- Stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the party ends;
-- Don't serve alcohol to an intoxicated guest;
-- Don't let anyone who is drunk or had more than the recommended drinking drive home; and
-- Promote having a plan and a designated driver prior to attending the party.

Because individuals are so different, it is difficult to give specific advice about drinking. But certain facts are clear -- there's no way to speed up the brain's recovery from alcohol and no way to make good decisions when you are drinking too much, too fast.

So this holiday season, do not underestimate the effects of alcohol. If you drink have a plan:

-- Set limits -- no more than three drinks for the evening. Keep count;
-- Pace yourself. Have "drink spacers" -- make every other drink a nonalcoholic one;
-- Call a taxi/friend/family member/supervisor; and
-- Have a designated driver.

Lastly, consider the consequences of an arrest or a potentially fatal crash, and make plans to get home safely and remember that a designated driver is someone who hasn't had any alcohol, not simply the person in your group who drank the least. Have a safe holiday season!

(Courtesy of the 72nd Air Base Wing Alcohol Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Office)