Health Watch -- Parties and driving

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

One bad decision could wreck your holiday season.

This week is a prime time for parties, from New Year's Eve celebrations to bowl-game blowouts. Emergency physicians at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and their colleagues across the country would rather not see you in the emergency room, so they remind you not to drink and drive.

The number of alcohol-related traffic accidents goes up during the holidays because people are more likely to be out at parties and less likely to be cautious about driving home. Legal blood-alcohol limits vary by state, but even if you aren't legally intoxicated, your coordination may be impaired and your alertness reduced enough to put you and others in danger if you drive. A 160-pound man may reach that level after just two beers, while a 120-pound woman may be close to that level after only one beer.

Dr. Kathleen Delaney, a UT Southwestern emergency physician, says you probably have a good idea of when your coordination is impaired. If you've been drinking, call a taxi to take you home. That's a lot less expensive than a hospital bill or a funeral.

If you aren't planning to drive, you should still be careful about indulging. Space your alcoholic drinks about an hour apart, and have a non-alcoholic drink in between to help prevent the dehydration that alcohol can cause. If you're the host, make sure that all beverages containing alcohol - especially tempting ones like eggnog or punch - are kept out of kids' reach.