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Drinking Alcohol Could Hamper Holiday Spirits
By Jamie Vickers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Eat, drink and be merry during the holidays, but if activities include alcohol, some people need to refrain.
"There are several groups of people who should not drink alcohol at all," said Dr. Barbara McLaurin, human nutrition specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. "These include anyone planning to drive or engage in skill-related activities, anyone using medication, children and adolescents, or those who cannot drink in moderation."
Another major group that should avoid alcohol is any woman who is pregnant or trying to conceive.
"No safe level has been established for pregnant women. As few as one to two drinks a day has been associated with harmful effects on a developing fetus," McLaurin said. "Damages are likely to occur during the first three months of pregnancy, sometimes before a woman knows she is pregnant."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines do not recommend the use of alcohol, but recommend moderation for those who drink it.
Moderation is defined as not more than one drink a day for women and not more than two drinks daily for men. A drink is one 12-ounce regular beer, or 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (80 proof).
Alcohol can remain in the blood for three to five hours even after moderate drinking.
"Lighter people have less fluid volume to dilute the alcohol, resulting in a higher blood alcohol concentration," McLaurin said. "Because women are generally smaller, they tend to be less able to tolerate alcohol than men."
She said a study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that women absorb more alcohol than men even when weights are equal.
One major reason to limit alcohol consumption is the high concentration of calories in drinks. McLaurin said alcohol has almost as many calories as does fat.
"Avoiding or decreasing alcohol intake is a good way to cut calories," McLaurin said.
Chronic use of alcohol suppresses the appetite, interfering with the consumption of nutrients.
"Research indicates many drinkers get 10 percent or more of their total calories from alcohol," McLaurin said. "Heavy drinking can lead to malnutrition because these drinkers do not eat as much or may skip meals."
Not only is excessive drinking hazardous to personal health, but it is against the law when combined with driving.
Total DUI, driving under the influence, arrests in Mississippi have increased from 22,000 in 1991 to 33,400 in 1997, according to Mississippi Department of Public Safety figures.
Those ages 25 to 44 years old make up the largest percentage of those arrested for DUI, and ages 20 to 24 are the next largest group.
Driving under the influence is not restricted to those of legal drinking age. Young men ages 18 to 20 years old report driving while impaired almost as frequently as men 21 to 34 years, according to results from a national survey of health behaviors.
Maintaining good health should be enough incentive to avoid celebrating the holidays with excessive alcohol, and consideration of the lives of others should be incentive to avoid driving under the influence.