December is fun time as it is full of marriages and celebrations like Christmas and New Year. Unfortunately, however, these celebrations often get tainted with certain evils. One of them is excessive drinking. That can spoil the fun and also have a long-term effect.
Binge drinking means periodic heavy drinking in a short space of time, which may bring the drinker’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. That happens typically when men consume 5 or more drinks, and when women consume 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours or less. One drink (or unit ) is considered as 10 ml of absolute alcohol i.e. about 25 ml of whiskey or another hard liquor or 65 ml of wine or 250 ml of beer.
It is considerably more dangerous than slow drinking, say consuming 5 drinks in 4-5 hours and mixed with food and physical activity like dancing or walking and chatting.
Hazards of binge drinking are many and serious and are essentially because of sudden rise in alcohol level in the blood hitting the brain.
- Overdosing on alcohol may result in sudden stoppage of heart or breathing, or one could choke on his/her vomit.
- Accidents and falls are common because of loss of balance and co-ordination. No wonder, alcohol is the biggest cause of accidents at home.
- Road accidents are similarly most common following binge drinking. Indeed, that is the biggest killer on the roads.
- Antisocial behavior and loss of friends because of misdemeanor and offensive language.
- Hangover and acute gastritis (nausea, vomiting and burning in upper abdomen ) on the following morning compelling the person to stay away from work for a day or two.
- Binge drinking can affect one’s mood and memory and in the longer term can lead to serious mental health problems.
- Finally, crimes and intentional injuries like shootings, sexual assaults and domestic violence are not uncommon after binge drinking.
How can we prevent people from binge drinking and related harms?
Possible ways include:
- Counseling and health education given regularly to the alcohol abusers.
- Limiting the number of drinks served per person in the bars.
- Limiting the number of retail alcohol outlets in a given area.
- Restricting access to alcohol by maintaining limits on the days and hours of alcohol retail sales.
- Consistent enforcement of laws against underage drinking and alcohol-impaired driving.
- Holding alcohol retailers responsible for the harms caused by their underage or intoxicated patrons.
- Increasing the cost of alcoholic beverages and excise taxes.
Dr Rakesh Tandon is the Medical Director and Head of Gastroenterology, Pushpawati Singhania Research Institute, New Delhi.
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