Few things beat a festive glass of bubbly, but it’s a fine line between tipsy and toxic. Charmaine Yabsley explores the dangers of ‘doing drinks’



Ow, my aching head.

We like a drink, us Aussies. Around four million Australians drink out of habit, and about 1.4 million of those drink to ‘feel normal’, according to a survey conducted in 2010 on behalf of the Salvation Army.


And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s loads of research that shows alcohol can be a healthy addition to our everyday lives, but the secret is in the moderation.

“Alcohol is a poison,” says Dr Ronald McCoy, spokesperson for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.


“When you drink, the chemicals in alcohol are absorbed into the bloodstream. The body then has to work to remove the alcohol from your blood.”


It does this through the liver, which has to alter the chemical to change it into a substance that the kidneys can excrete.


“During this process, an atom in your body – acetaldehyde, which is the same chemical found in nail polish – is released, which is responsible for that pounding head,” he says. It can take a while for your body to get rid of that acetaldehyde.


That’s why, on a night out, if you want to feel and look halfway human the next day, you should drink as much water as possible.

The benefits

There are benefits to a daily tipple, as long as it’s in moderation. “As long as you have no more than 200ml a day, and try to have three alcohol-free days a week,” says accredited practising dietitian Tara Diversi. “We tend to pour ourselves large glasses of wine, rather than smaller, 100ml sizes,” she says.

Keeping serving sizes in mind, it seems that sitting down for a relaxing glass of wine or beer is doing you some good. In fact, those who abstain from alcohol are just as at risk of heart disease as those who drink three alcohol units or more a day.


One recent study found that those who drink alcohol in moderation (about one drink a day) are 14 to 25 per cent less likely to develop heart disease compared to those who drink no alcohol at all.

“We know that resveratrol, the substance found in red grapes, may protect against heart disease and stroke,” says Dr McCoy. In various studies, resveratrol has been found to be beneficial in the prevention of heart disease, stroke, loss of eyesight, and even weight gain.


A recent study found that women whose weight is within a healthy range and who drink a light to moderate amount of alcohol appear to gain less weight and have a lower risk of becoming overweight or obese than non-drinkers.

Are you overdoing it?

“A good rule of thumb to work out if you’re drinking too much is to ask if you’re regularly waking in the morning tired and hungover,” says Dr McCoy.


According to health guidelines, your body can cope with the recommended two standard drinks a day. It’s when you drink more than this that you may find yourself bloated, tired, tearful and prone to illnesses.

So, how to cut back? According to advice issued by the Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing, you should avoid places and people where you’ll be tempted to drink, drink more slowly and, when ordering a round for others, buy yourself a water or non-alcohol drink, rather than joining in. You’ll appreciate the effort tomorrow, we promise.


Why .05? Your blood alcohol content (BAC) affects your ability to focus and make judgements. Although alcohol can affect people in different ways, according to their weight, for instance, 0.05 is the average BAC level whereby people are assumed to be able to function normally.


So, despite our well-meaning advice, you’ve gone and overdone it. Here’s how to look and feel at least half human.

Drink coffee and take an aspirin. Recent research has found that this is the best form of lessening the effects of a hangover.

Rehydrate. Rehydrate. Rehydrate. “Drink as much water as you can, and if you don’t get up during the night to go to the toilet, then you’re still dehydrated,” says Dr McCoy.

Eat. Even if your stomach is heaving like a seasick sailor, try a slow-released carbohydrate meal, such as toast, with some orange juice. “The fructose in juice speeds up the metabolism, which means you’ll get rid of the alcohol from your system faster,” he says.

Go for the top shelf. The better the quality of drink, the better you’ll feel the next day. Some commercial beers and wine may have carbon dioxide added, which is responsible for the sore head and stomach. Stick to the one drink to avoid feeling so queasy the next day.

Have a bath. A power shower may help to wake you up, but if you feel the need to put off facing the real world for a bit longer, try an aromatherapy bath. Chrissy Wildwood, author of Aroma Remedies, suggests a mixture of chamomile, clary sage, eucalyptus, lavender, lemongrass, peppermint, rose otto, rosemary or sweet marjoram.

Get moving. “Remember that your body is totally dehydrated, so do a yoga session rather than a workout,” says personal trainer Edwina Griffin. “Your body is stressed, so do a yoga class, which will help calm it down. Plus, you’ve got 50 per cent less brain function, so you’re not going to be able to focus on a tricky step class.” Or, head to the beach or a pool to clear your head.