Wellness Wednesday: The Truth About Holiday Spirits

How to Celebrate Safely This Season

We all want to celebrate during the holidays, and more people are likely to drink beyond their limits during this season than at other times of the year.

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Some of them will suffer consequences that range from fights to falls to traffic crashes. Sadly, we often put ourselves and others at risk because we don’t understand how alcohol affects us during an evening of celebratory drinking.

Myths Persist

Despite these potential dangers, myths persist that, for some, can prove fatal. Scientific studies supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provide important information that challenges these widespread, yet incorrect, beliefs about how quickly alcohol affects the body and how long the effects of drinking last.

Alcohol’s Effects Begin Quickly

Holiday revelers may not recognize that critical decision-making abilities and driving-related skills are already diminished long before a person shows physical signs of intoxication.

Initially, alcohol acts as a stimulant, and people who drink may feel upbeat and excited. But don’t be fooled. Alcohol soon affects inhibitions and judgment, and can lead to reckless decisions.

As we consume more alcohol, reaction time suffers and behavior becomes poorly controlled and sometimes even aggressive—leading to fights and other types of violence. Continued drinking causes the slurred speech and loss of balance that we typically associate with being drunk. At higher levels, alcohol acts as a depressant, which causes the drinker to become sleepy and in some cases pass out.

At these levels, alcohol can also cause blackouts or periods of amnesia where a person does not remember what happened while he or she was intoxicated. The intoxicated person actively engages in behaviors like walking and talking, but does not create memories for these or other events that occur during the blackout. In the most extreme cases, drinkers face the danger of life-threatening alcohol poisoning due to the suppression of vital life functions.

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Even When Drinking Stops—Alcohol’s Effects Do Not

During an evening of drinking, it’s also easy to misjudge how long alcohol’s effects last. For example, many people believe that they will begin to sober up—and drive safely—once they stop drinking and have a cup of coffee. The truth is that alcohol continues to affect the brain and body long after the last drink has been finished. Even after someone stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream, impairing judgment and coordination for hours.

Before You Celebrate—Plan Ahead

Of course, we don’t intend to harm anyone when we celebrate during the holiday season. Yet violence and traffic fatalities persist and myths about drinking live on—even though scientific studies have documented how alcohol affects the brain and body. Because individuals are so different, it is difficult to give specific advice about drinking. But certain facts are clear—there’s no way to speed up the brain’s recovery from alcohol and no way to make good decisions when you are drinking too much, too fast.

So this holiday season, do not underestimate the effects of alcohol. Don’t believe you can beat them, or they may beat you.

Here are some tips to keep in mind if you choose to drink:

  • Pace yourself. Know what constitutes a standard drink and have no more than one per hour.
  • Have “drink spacers”—make every other drink a nonalcoholic one.
  • 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 more information on celebrating your holidays safely and tips for cutting back, visit: www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health.

Download this article as a PDF.

 

Wellness Wednesday: What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Skin Cancer?

man_gardeningProtection from ultraviolet (UV) radiation is important all year round, not just during the summer or at the beach. UV rays from the sun can reach you on cloudy and hazy days, as well as bright and sunny days. UV rays also reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand and snow. Indoor tanning (using a tanning bed, booth or sunlamp to get tan) exposes users to UV radiation.

The hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. are the most hazardous for UV exposure outdoors in the continental United States. UV rays from sunlight are the greatest during the late spring and early summer in North America.

The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. Follow these recommendations to help protect yourself and your family.

Shade

You can reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer by seeking shade under an umbrella, tree, or other shelter before you need relief from the sun. Your best bet to protect your skin is to use sunscreen or wear protective clothing when you’re outside—even when you’re in the shade.

Clothing

When possible, long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts can provide protection from UV rays. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors. Some clothing certified under international standards comes with information on its ultraviolet protection factor.

If wearing this type of clothing isn’t practical, at least try to wear a T-shirt or a beach cover-up. Keep in mind that a typical T-shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15, so use other types of protection as well.

Hat

For the most protection, wear a hat with a brim all the way around that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck. A tightly woven fabric, such as canvas, works best to protect your skin from UV rays. Avoid straw hats with holes that let sunlight through. A darker hat may offer more UV protection.

If you wear a baseball cap, you should also protect your ears and the back of your neck by wearing clothing that covers those areas, using sunscreen with at least SPF 15, or by staying in the shade.

Sunglasses

Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure.

Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Most sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side.

Sunscreen

Mom-sunscreenPut on broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15 before you go outside, even on slightly cloudy or cool days. Don’t forget to put a thick layer on all parts of exposed skin. Get help for hard-to-reach places like your back. And remember, sunscreen works best when combined with other options to prevent UV damage.

How sunscreen works. Most sun protection products work by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering sunlight. They contain chemicals that interact with the skin to protect it from UV rays. All products do not have the same ingredients; if your skin reacts badly to one product, try another one or call a doctor.

SPF. Sunscreens are assigned a sun protection factor (SPF) number that rates their effectiveness in blocking UV rays. Higher numbers indicate more protection. You should use a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15.

Reapplication. Sunscreen wears off. Put it on again if you stay out in the sun for more than two hours and after swimming, sweating or toweling off.

Expiration date. Check the sunscreen’s expiration date. Sunscreen without an expiration date has a shelf life of no more than three years, but its shelf life is shorter if it has been exposed to high temperatures.

Cosmetics. Some makeup and lip balms contain some of the same chemicals used in sunscreens. If they do not have at least SPF 15, don’t use them by themselves.

More information:

Sunscreen: The Burning Facts
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

FDA Sheds Light on Sunscreens
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Protecting Yourself from Sun Exposure
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Wellness Wednesday: Finding the Balance between Happy Hour and Your Good Health

alcohol-05Many people have an occasional glass of wine with dinner or celebrate with a cocktail or a beer, but how much is too much?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) excessive alcohol use is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the United States. April is Alcohol Awareness Month and Mercy Health System would like to take this opportunity to remind you of the importance of caring for yourself—body, mind and spirit.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that if you drink alcoholic beverages, do not exceed one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men. According to the CDC, one alcoholic drink can be measured as 12 ounces of beer or cooler, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (rum, gin, vodka, etc.)

The guidelines recommend that those who fit into the following avoid alcoholic beverages:

  • Children and adolescents
  • People of any age who cannot limit their drinking to low level
  • Women who may become pregnant or who are pregnant
  • Those who plan to drive, operate machinery, or take part in other activities that require attention, skill, or coordination
  • People taking prescription or over-the-counter medications that can interact with alcohol
  • Persons recovering from alcoholism
  • Others as directed by their primary care physician (PCP)

If you feel like you need assistance in managing your drinking, or if you’re feeling stressed or depressed, your PCP can help coordinate your care and refer you to a specialist, if needed. If you don’t have a PCP, visit your insurance carrier’s website, look for the “find a doctor” area and follow the instructions.

To find a Mercy physician, go to www.mercyhealth.org/find-a-doctor.