How to drink smart this Christmas

Most of us like to let our hair down a little during the festive season. But if you go overboard with alcohol, chances are you’ll pay the price with a not-so-festive hangover.

Whatever the time of year, guidance from the UK’s Chief Medical Officers says to keep the health risks from drinking alcohol to a low level you should not regularly drink more than 14 units a week (a unit is the equivalent of a 25ml single measure of spirits, a third of a pint of beer or half a standard 175ml glass of red wine).

Drinking one or two units will speed up your heart rate and make your blood vessels expand, making you feel warm, sociable and full of the festive spirit. But what if you drink more? According to the NHS, this is what happens when you drink…

4-6 units: your decision making and judgement will become affected, making you lose your inhibitions and become more reckless. At the same time your nervous system will start to be affected, making you feel lightheaded. This amount of alcohol will also affect your co-ordination, and your reaction time may become slower.

8-9 units: your reaction times will be much slower, your speech will begin to slur and your vision will begin to lose focus. Your liver will be unable to remove all of the alcohol overnight, so it is highly likely you will wake up with a hangover

10-12 units: your co-ordination will become seriously impaired, placing you at high risk of having an accident. You’ll feel drowsy or dizzy, and you may stagger around or feel unstable on your feet as the amount of alcohol in your body begins to reach toxic levels.

The next morning you’ll be dehydrated and will probably have a severe headache. The excess alcohol in your system may upset your digestive system, leading to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and indigestion.

More than 12 units: you’re at high risk of developing alcohol poisoning, particularly if you are drinking lots of units in a short space of time. At this level the alcohol can also begin to interfere with the automatic functions of your body, such as your breathing, heart rate and gag reflex, which stops you from choking. You are also at risk of losing consciousness.

How to drink less

Whether you’re at a party or having a drink at home over the festive period, here are a few tips to help you drink less alcohol and stay healthy:

  • Before you go out, set yourself a limit for how much you’re going to drink. Don’t forget to include any drinks you have at home beforehand. Setting yourself a fixed budget for alcohol before you go out can also help.
  • Have at least one soft drink or glass of water with each alcoholic drink. This can help you to spread your drinks out throughout the night.
  • Instead of drinking pints or large glasses of wine, opt for halves or bottles of beer, and ask for wine in a small glass.
  • Don’t feel pressured to keep up with other people or to drink in rounds (drinking in rounds can make you drink much faster than when you’re buying drinks just for yourself).
  • Dilute your drinks – try having a spritzer or a shandy, for instance.
  • Sit when you drink rather than standing (it helps you drink more slowly).
  • Find something else to do besides drinking while you’re enjoying yourself, such as dancing or playing party games.

Your local Careway pharmacist has lots more tips to help you drink less. Meanwhile if you need help nursing the symptoms of a hangover this festive season, ask your pharmacist to recommend products that may help soothe a throbbing headache or an upset stomach. Find your nearest pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.