Billions of people around the world are preparing to bid farewell to 2019 and raise a glass to a new year – and a new decade.
While the turn of the year is a time for celebration, experts have urged revellers to be sensible about their alcohol consumption.
Alcohol-related violence and medical emergencies peak in the summer months, a VicHealth study found, with incidents spiking on and around public holidays.
“Events that are associated with drinking alcohol in public in warmer weather are generally more likely to be associated with violence, drunkenness and traffic accidents than winter and/or indoor celebrations,” the study said.
There are “significant increases in alcohol-related incidents in the lead-up to most public holidays” especially the days before New Year’s Day, and Australia Day.
New Year’s Eve is of particular concern, with a “seven-fold increase in ambulance attendances, a six-fold increase in emergency presentations and a five-fold increase in hospital admissions”.
Australia’s drinking culture: The stats
Alcohol is the number one drug causing Australians to seek professional help, a recent study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) revealed.
According to the report, the four most common drugs that led Australians to ask for help in 2017-18 were alcohol (34 per cent), amphetamines or ‘ice’ (25 per cent), cannabis (21 per cent) and heroin (5 per cent).
“Alcohol is the most harmful drug by a country mile – it just happens to be legal,” Australian National University lecturer and emergency consultant Dr David Caldicott said.
Alcohol has more impact on emergency departments than any other drug put together, including cannabis and cocaine.”
Alcohol kills an estimated 6000 people in Australia each year and is responsible for 144,000 hospitalisations according to the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE).
A 2013 study found that alcohol costs the nation around $14 billion per year in public spending on the health and legal systems, plus costs of crime, productivity loss and road accidents.
What the guidelines say
In November, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) released strict new alcohol consumption guidelines.
Healthy adults should drink no more than 10 standard drinks per week – around 1.4 per day – according to the government’s new alcohol consumption guidelines.
In addition to capping the maximum number of weekly drinks at 10, the 2019 guidelines also stipulate that healthy adults should consume no more than four standard drinks in any one day.
Children under 18 should not drink alcohol at all, nor should women who are pregnant, breast-feeding or planning to have a baby, the guidelines say.
“The less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of alcohol-related harm. For some people, not drinking at all is the safest option,” NHMRC council chief executive Professor Anne Kelso said.
Numerous studies show that alcohol consumption is harmful to health, even at low levels, she said.
“The health risks, therefore, are something we all need to consider.”
Tips for avoiding a hangover
While myths and misinformation about how to cure a hangover abound, you’re better off taking steps to prevent one in the first place.
“It doesn’t matter what type of alcohol you drink – or even whether you mix drinks – the effects are basically the same with the same amount of alcohol,” psychologist Nicole Lee, an adjunct professor at the National Drug Research Institute, and research assistant Brigid Clancy wrote in The Conversation.
To avoid a hangover, the researchers suggested the following:
- Eat food before and during drinking to help to slow down the absorption of alcohol
- Drink water in between alcoholic drinks
- Set your limits early. Decide before you start the night how much you want to drink, then stick to it
- Count your drinks and avoid shouts
- Slow down, take sips rather than gulps and avoid having shots.
Tech can help curb alcohol abuse
You don’t need to rely on willpower alone to get your drinking under control, smartphone apps and online resources can help too.
Government-funded alcohol support app Daybreak is free for anyone in Australia and allows people to work on changing their relationship with alcohol in an “anonymous, safe, and secure environment”.
The program offers unlimited one-on-one chats with qualified ‘health coaches’, help that “would normally cost over $180 an hour through Medicare or health insurance”.
If you’re concerned about your or someone else’s alcohol use, call the National Alcohol and other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015