The economy may be slowing down and the job market may be dicey, but its the season to be jolly and everyone seems to be celebrating.
Almost everyone uninhibitedly imbibes at parties, as alcohol flows freely. With a variety of small pegs (30ml) or large pegs (60ml) offered, it makes sense for a person who is not a regular drinker to stick to a single glass of wine or beer, and then make it last all evening. Beverages vary in their alcohol content and in the swiftness of their action.
This is because alcohol easily enters cell membranes and all the tissues in the body. Most importantly, it unobtrusively depresses the central nervous system. It suppresses social inhibitions and affects the higher brain functions. A quiet friend may be suddenly transformed into a joking, laughing, party animal. The effect depends on not only how much was drunk but when and by whom.
Control is the key to social drinking. Salty snacks served along with alcohol enhance thirst and subtly increase consumption. After the initial feeling of relaxation and good cheer, excessive drinking can cause a blurring of vision and co-ordination problems. Unfortunately vomiting can occur and may be followed by loss of consciousness. Fluid and food from the stomach may be aspirated into the lungs. This can lead to death, an unfortunate tragic end to a happy outing. Bets may be placed or an individual may be egged on by peers to consume more and more. Continuous uninhibited consumption can lead to alcohol poisoning and death. A blood alcohol concentration of 0.45 per cent will kill 50 per cent of the people.
The same high requires more and more alcohol in regular drinkers. This is because of habituation. The exact amount required for dangerous side effects varies from person to person. The effects of alcohol can also be slowed by eating a heavy meal prior to the drinks as the absorption is delayed (one reason to eat those delicious starters). Also, if you must drink, it is better to be a man. Women become intoxicated with much less alcohol as they constitutionally have more fat and less muscle in their bodies.
Rash driving under the influence is common. Reaction time is slowed, making essential split second decisions difficult. Blissfully unaware, convinced of vehicle control, the drunk may speed, take unnecessary risks, or drive poorly, leading to fatal or incapacitating motor vehicle accidents.
After a drink or two, desire rears its head. Inhibitions may be sufficiently lowered for consensual, casual sex between consenting, unprepared, unprotected partners. In the cold sober light of day, the scenario changes and accusations of rape or betrayal rear their heads. Such sex can result in sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhoea, hepatitis B or C or an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy.
Date rape is a very real danger today. Rape is not gender specific or confined to women. Men too can be raped, with adverse psychological and health consequences. In 40 per cent of rape cases, the perpetuator and victim are casual acquaintances, friends, colleagues, classmates or neighbours.
A bouquet of date rape drugs — tasteless, odourless, fast acting chemicals — are available, like diazepam (Valium), lorazepam, the newer flunitrazepam (Rohypnol or roofies) hallucinogenic drugs, street drugs, GHB (gamma hydroxybutyric acid) and Ketamine. Many unscrupulous antisocial elements know how to procure and use these to secretly spike alcoholic drinks, cola beverages or food, especially in dark surroundings like those found in bars and discos. The person suffers a short term memory loss, cannot recall the event or the perpetuators, and can be photographed in compromising situations. Robbery or blackmail then becomes an additional motive.
Unplanned, unprotected, casual, sexual encounters can result in unfortunate consequences like a pregnancy. Anxious days waiting for the results of a pregnancy test can now be avoided by using the i-pill for emergency contraception. It can be purchased over the counter and is effective if taken within 72 hours of intercourse. It should be taken after food. If vomiting occurs within three hours, the dose should be repeated as soon as possible. The i-Pill is meant for emergency contraception only and not for use on a regular basis. It is not an abortificant and will not terminate an established pregnancy.
Memory loss makes the victim disoriented and the recollection of the details hazy. Fear of society, guilt and social stigma make many victims hide crimes that occur while under the influence, wittingly or otherwise, of alcohol or drugs.
Avoid problems, and not parties. Remember, sensible partying requires a designated driver — a person who will not drink at all at that particular party, keep an eye out for friends, recognise dangers and then drive everyone safely home. A good time with no regrets can be had by all.
Dr Gita Mathai is a paediatrician with a family practice at Vellore. Questions on health issues may be emailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org