SAFER ALCOHOL USE
If you are an alcohol user, you have company: Alcohol is the oldest and most widely used drug in the world. People use alcohol for many reasons – to celebrate festive events and special social occasions like the Vancouver Winter Games. Being aware of the risks of alcohol use, and “thinking before you drink” – i.e. planning how you will manage those risks, can reduce the chance of harming yourself or others when you drink.
In low to moderate amounts, alcohol can produce feelings of relaxation or euphoria, lower inhibitions, and increase sociability. Larger amounts can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, slower reflexes, aggressiveness, bad judgement, dehydration and a hangover the next day. Alcohol is a depressant. It slows the central nervous system; impairs reflexes, vision, and motor coordination; and affects judgement, which is why it is dangerous to drive after having consumed alcohol. A woman who drinks during pregnancy can cause harm to her fetus. Consuming too much alcohol at once can cause acute alcohol toxicity (overdose), which can cause loss of motor control, black-outs (periods of consciousness that afterward one will not be able to remember well or at all), temporary coma (passing out), and in extreme cases, death.
SAFER DRINKING TIPS
Plan Your Transportation. Don’t drive when you have been drinking or accept a ride from someone who’s been drinking. Plan beforehand who will stay sober or how you will get home after drinking.
Go Out With a Friend. It’s safer to drink in bars with friends than alone.
Be Cautious When Drinking With Acquaintances and Around Strangers. Both men and women can be victimized by date rape drugs which can be put in drinks, though alcohol itself is far and away the drug which most commonly facilitates such assaults on females in particular. Don’t take drinks from strangers.
Eat First. Eating a meal before you drink alcohol greatly slows the rate that alcohol enters the bloodstream, which reduces the possibility of alcohol overdose.
Slow Down. Drinking at a slower rate can lessen the chance of experiencing ill effects of alcohol. Ways to slow down include switching to less potent drinks (for example beer instead of whiskey), timing your drinks with your watch, and alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks.
Beware of Drinking Games. Drinking games can be dangerous, as the whole point of them is to drink large amounts of alcohol quickly, which can lead to alcohol overdose.
Don’t Rely on Coffee to Sober You Up. Coffee might make you feel more awake after you have been drinking, but it won’t make you more sober. Drinking coffee will not make it safe for you to drive if you have been drinking alcohol.
Know the Alcohol Content of What You Are Drinking. Alcohol content of different drinks and spirits can vary widely. Knowing the alcohol content of what you’re drinking can help you pace yourself.
Know Your Own Reaction to Drinking. Everyone’s reaction to alcohol is different, depending on body weight, metabolism, existing tolerance, food in the stomach, and other factors. Know your own limits and pace yourself. A standard drink is metabolised out of your system in approximately 1.5 hours.
Don’t Mix Alcohol With Other Drugs, Including Prescription Drugs. Mixing alcohol with other drugs, including over-the-counter or prescription medications, is dangerous and can lead to medical emergencies, overdose, and death.
Plan Ahead and Pack Condoms and Lube. Being intoxicated interferes with decision-making and can increase the chance of risky sexual behaviours or victimisation. If you are uncomfortable doing something when you are sober, your body and mind are probably giving you messages about who is a safe person to share your experiences with, how to best protect your health, and when to make decisions that you are right for you. Don’t let alcohol or drugs change your mind. Whatever your choice – carrying condoms is a good idea.
Please visit HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol for more information on alcohol and personal safety.
Do you wonder if you drink too much and if your drinking habits are unhealthy or put you at risk of harm or becoming dependent? Visit Alcohol Reality Check to take a short quiz and learn more.
Here’s some more information on Alcohol from our colleagues at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC: