We all want to relax, celebrate, and enjoy the holidays. Unfortunately, during this season, people tend to drink past the recommended limits more than any other time of the year. Many who overindulge will suffer negative consequences, ranging from fights to falls and traffic accidents to alcohol poisoning. We may not recognize that critical decision-making abilities and driving skills are already diminished long before physical signs of intoxication begin to show.

It’s easy to misjudge how long the effects of alcohol will last. Many people believe they will begin to sober up — and be able to drive safely — once they stop drinking and have a cup of coffee. But the truth is that alcohol continues to affect the brain and body long after finishing that last drink.

Even after stopping, alcohol that’s still in the stomach and intestines continues to enter the bloodstream, impairing judgment and coordination for several more hours. One way to help counteract that is to eat. Eating is always good when consuming alcohol because it helps slow down alcohol absorption.

Overall, the effects of drinking differ according to the individual. But certain facts are clear and consistent: there is no way to speed up the brain’s recovery from alcohol and there is no way to make good decisions when you are drinking too much too fast (binge/heavy drinking). Before you celebrate, plan ahead! Violence and traffic fatalities are all too common during the holiday season. Remember to play it safe, and always “Protect What You’ve Earned.”

Here are some tips to help you plan ahead if you choose to drink during this holiday:

  • Pace yourself: Know what a standard drink is and do not have more than 1 per hour–no more than 4 drinks for men or 3 for women per day.
  • Have “drink spacers”: make every other drink a nonalcoholic one (preferably water).
  • Make plans to get home safely: remember that a designated driver is someone who hasn’t had any alcohol, not simply the person in your group who drank the least.

For additional information on alcohol, check out the Rethinking Drinking site.

You can get additional information from your local Substance Abuse Counseling Center.