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Gus Hoyt: alcohol awareness and surviving the festivities

20 November 2014

To mark Alcohol Awareness Week, Gus Hoyt, Green Party Councillor for Ashley ward and Bristol City Council cabinet member for health, focuses on the effects alcohol can have on people in the run up to Christmas. This is the first of a new series of blogs, where key players in Bristol's health sector write about a health related subject of their choice. If you want to contribute, email zoe.trinder-widdess@bristolhealthpartners.org.uk.

"So, it's that time of year again. Work and office parties will be mixed with increased trips to the pub and clubs as the festive celebrations begin.

Warnings of the dangers of increased alcohol consumption will pop up everywhere alongside adverts for buy one get one free cocktail offers.

It's easy to turn a blind eye and console ourselves with the New Year's resolutions we'll sign up to after the binging is exhausted.

Drinking and pubs are not bad for us. In moderation, alcohol demonstrates clear physical and mental health benefits. It boosts the local economy and creates social hubs for communities, providing places to socialise at a time of year that sees an increase in social exclusion and depression. In excess, it can be a different story - putting added pressure on an ever-struggling NHS and A&E, and costing an estimated £21bn a year.

Alcohol consumption has risen drastically in the past decade and there are many theories about this. But that's a story told elsewhere, along with unnecessary A&E visits due to drunken accidents and long term liver damage (up 40 per cent).

I'd like to focus on something closer to my heart: looking out for one another.

Most of us know we'll have 'one too many' and in many circumstances, excess drinking can lead to unacceptable behaviour. Inhibitions are dropped and clear lines are crossed. The most prevailing is that around sexual harassment.

If you see a friend harassing someone (they will likely think they are just 'playing around'), have a word.

Likewise look after your friends and make sure they aren't putting themselves in danger. A slightly earlier end to the night is better than a friend (or stranger) being assaulted.

There are of course some simple and easy guidelines when out on a big night: don't preload, drink water to stay hydrated, maybe alternating soft drinks with alcoholic drinks - your friends don't even need to know and you'll reduce the effects of the hangover the next day. Eating is always a good thing (and I mean more than a pack of crisps!) and means we all have a lot more fun.

Look out for each other and stay together and if you're out late walk each other home or make sure taxis are caught and friends and colleagues aren't left wandering off into the night alone.

It's a time of celebration and giving but also one of compassion. Forcing friends to keep up with your rounds can be dangerous and a form of bullying, so let's follow our limits - we hopefully know these better than others - and keep an eye out for each other.

Happy holidays and wishing you an excellent New Year."

Gus Hoyt: alcohol awareness and surviving the festivities
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