December 20, 2017

The sobering truth about the ‘silly season’

christmas celebrations

There’s a reason why they call this time of year the 'silly season'.

While our calendars are jam-packed with work-parties and family celebrations, Australia’s emergency services personnel are in even higher demand.

Alcohol harms increase over the holidays

Different health departments and hospitals across the country have said December is typically a really busy time for them and alcohol contributes to this.

Alcohol statistics gathered by Turning Point and VicHealth have shown that rates of alcohol-related harms reach a high in the summer months, beginning from the last working day before Christmas.1

On this day, there is a 50% increase in ambulance attendances for alcohol intoxication.1

Why is this happening?

A binge drinking culture

The Christmas period is associated with the throwing of parties and celebrating with friends, family and colleagues – and those parties typically involve a lot of alcohol. This has been so normalised that being intoxicated at the office Christmas party has become a stereotype.

Celebrations involving alcohol aren’t necessarily a problem, but the way in which many people drink at this time of year can be.

The term 'binge drinking' generally refers to drinking heavily over a short period of time, resulting in immediate and severe intoxication.

Binge drinking is cultural – it doesn’t happen in all societies that consume alcohol.

And not all the drinking is about celebrating. Sadly, many people will be drinking a lot to mask feelings of loneliness and despair during a time that is traditionally seen as one to be spent with loved ones.

Unexpected harms

Some people may think that because their binge drinking is just over the holidays that it’s okay. But there is no safe time to binge drink – even a single episode can have repercussions. Intoxication can lead to accidents and injuries, which could be anything from a twisted ankle to a serious fall, broken bones and even death.

Intoxication can cause many other issues too, including career or friendship damaging behaviours, the loss or damage of valuable items, or reckless spending.

And it’s not just drinking on the night that can cause problems.

The next day

If someone’s had a ‘big night’, even if they don’t wind up in an ambulance, they still have to deal with the effects of their alcohol consumption the next day. Many people think for instance that they’ll be fine to drive the next day if they just ‘sleep it off’; but it’s not sleep that makes you less intoxicated – it’s your liver’s ability to process the alcohol that’s been consumed.

Since your body processes the alcohol in your system at a fixed rate (about one standard drink per hour), if you’ve been drinking heavily it can take a long time to fully sober up. If it was a really big night, it might take you eight, or even 10 hours to become sober.

So yes, you can still get done for drink driving if you’re behind the wheel the next day.

Sobering-up ‘tricks’ like coffee, sports or energy drinks, and cold showers don’t actually work – the only thing that works is time.

But we can all take steps to make this season a little less silly.

What you can do

As party hosts, guests, workmates, friends and family, we all have a part to play in helping to reduce the negative effects of alcohol through the festive season.

Hosts: Try not to let alcohol saturate your event. Plan activities that can take the focus away from drinking. This includes encouraging people to consume food and non-alcoholic drinks.

Guests: Control your alcohol intake by sipping regularly on water and only taking the amount of drinks that you need to the event. Have a getaway plan, whether it’s calling a taxi or getting a lift with a designated driver.

Communities: The holiday season can be a difficult time for many, so spread the love wherever possible. Where appropriate, invite friends and community members who may be isolated or alone to your celebrations.

Families: The festive season is a great opportunity to spend time with loved ones, young and old. Set a good example for your family by role modelling lower-risk drinking and avoiding giving alcohol-related gifts.

Enjoy the celebrations

We hope everyone has fun and spends time with their family and friends – celebrating the old year and welcoming in the new one.

By limiting our alcohol intake as we do this, we can set a great example for those around us, and have a much more memorable and safe time; not to mention making life easier for our emergency services personnel who spend too much of this precious time of year away from their loved ones.

  1. Lloyd B, Matthews, S, Livingston, M, Jayasekara, H. Drinking cultures and social occasions: Alcohol harms in the context of major public holidays and cultural events. Fitzroy, Victoria: Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre; 2011.

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