End of year festivities can tempt us in ways that mess with our health. But there are ways you can minimise the damage.
So the end of the year is in sight and the prospect of letting your hair down with friends, colleagues or family over a drink or two seems a fitting way to honour this milestone. All well and good. But too often, the party season takes its toll on your health.
Check out these tips to get you through the next month without causing undue harm to your body and mind.
Plan your alcohol strategy
Before the party starts, plan ways to minimise your alcohol intake and the effect it will have on your body. If that doesn't feel festive, imagine the headache, nausea and general misery you feel when you overindulge. This should help you stick to your plan.
- Have something to eat before you drink, and eat throughout the night too.
- Make your first drink water – or something soft – if you can. It will help you quench your thirst and stop you skulling your first drink.
- Drink your drinks slowly.
- Choose low-alcohol varieties of beer or wine, or dilute your alcoholic drinks (try wine and soda to make a spritzer or beer and lemonade to make a shandy).
- Make every second drink non-alcoholic or just water.
Minimise a hangover
There's only one way sure fire way to avoid a hangover – don't drink too much alcohol. But if you do drink a little too much, drinking more water before you go to bed is also recommended. And be sure to have water on hand to drink when you wake during the night. (Note it's very likely you will wake up. Alcohol helps you drop off to sleep, but it makes you wake more often, so your sleep is fragmented. Overall, its effect on sleep is negative.)
Avoiding dark coloured drinks, such as red wine, brandy or whisky, can also help. Darker drinks contain substances called congeners, which make a hangover worse.
Sports drinks are a popular morning after hangover fix and while they can help rehydrate you, generally water is just as good (and has far fewer kilojoules). Sports drinks can be helpful in replacing lost electrolytes (salts) if you are very dehydrated, but juice or milk will do the job too. If you do try a sports drink, make sure it doesn't contain caffeine (some do) as that's likely to make your dehydration worse.
For more information see the Fact Buster: Will sports drinks cure your hangover?
Stay safe the day after
If you've had a big night, your blood alcohol level may still be too high to drive the next day. A raised blood alcohol level, or even just a bad hangover and sleep deprivation, probably mean you should avoid going up a ladder and doing handyman jobs too. And as for using chainsaws or other hazardous equipment in the garden... save it for another day. Just focus on rehydrating yourself (avoiding caffeinated drinks will help with this), eating small amounts of healthy foods (avoid fatty fry ups as these may make nausea worse) and resting.
Alcohol and antibiotics
You don't necessarily need to avoid alcohol altogether if you're taking antibiotics – especially if you're past the acute phase of an illness. Combining booze and antibiotics won't mean you'll get drunk faster and there's little evidence the alcohol will stop the antibiotics from working. But what about nasty interactions? There are only three antibiotics where this is a worry, according to Brisbane clinical pharmacist Geraldine Moses; however, they're marketed under a number of different brand names (common ones being Flagyl, Fasigyn and Bactrim). These medications are prescribed for conditions including gum and intestinal infections or infections after childbirth and they will have clear warnings on the box. If you ignore these, the result will be spectacular: you'll go bright red, you'll probably faint, and you'll feel very sick and almost certainly vomit.
Even if you're not taking one of the handful of antibiotics where this reaction is a risk, it's worth noting some antibiotic side effects such as sleepiness, dizziness, agitation and gut disturbance can be made worse by alcohol. So it's probably always best to be cautious rather than cavalier.
For more information see the Fact Buster: Should you always avoid alcohol when taking antibiotics?
Beware the "social smoking" slippery slope
So you only smoke at parties and think the occasional cigarette can't damage your health? Think again. Experts say every cigarette increases the risk of smoking-related diseases and no level of smoking is safe. What's more, it's a slippery slope. When you've had a few drinks at a party, it's easy to lose track of how many cigarettes you've had. This matters because nicotine is highly addictive, so what starts as an occasional habit can all too easily become regular. There may be some denial when this happens. Research shows those who describe themselves as 'social smokers' (saying they smoke only when out with friends) tend to under-report their habit. In reality, most of these people light up daily, half having more than five cigarettes a day and a third having more than 10 a day.
For more information see the Fact Buster: Will an occasional cigarette damage your health?
Keep your stomach happy
There's only one thing worse than a bad hangover after a party and that's a bad hangover with food poisoning thrown in. Some party foods are especially risky once they've been out of the fridge a few hours – these include soft cheeses (hard cheeses are less risky), meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, smallgoods such as salami and ham, seafood, cooked rice, cooked pasta and prepared salads such as coleslaw, pasta salads, and rice salads.
The "two-four-out" rule is a good rule of thumb for any of these high-risk foods that have been left out in temperatures between five and 60 degrees Celcius:
- Two: if the food has been out less than two hours, it can be put in the fridge and used within two to three days
- Four: If it's been out two to four hours, eat it straight away or toss it.
- Out: If it's been out more than four hours, don't let it near your lips. Just toss it!