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Mulled wine. Spiked egg nog. Hot toddies. Champagne toasts. The list of festive holiday drinks is endless. And so are your opportunities to overdo it. So before the festive season gets into full swing, take a moment to understand what all that alcohol does to your body.

After your first alcoholic drink or two (which is moderate drinking, by the way), you start to get that relaxed, sociable feeling. Your heart rate speeds up; you feel animated and may have a happy buzz. But make no mistake; at this point your brain and nerves—which control reflexes and thinking—are already impaired.

If you keep drinking, things start to go downhill quickly. Since your hands and feet may not be in sync with your brain and reflexes, your coordination and reaction time may be out of sorts. Lack of mental clarity can also lead to poor judgment and rash decisions.

There’s also the potential for aggression. For some people, lack of self-control at this stage leads to a whole lot of getting up in other people’s faces.

Beyond this point, alcohol acts like a depressant: Your speech tends to get slow and slurred. Your reaction time may slow down even more. You may stumble and lose your balance. Your vision may get blurry. And, you may get sleepy.

If you keep drinking beyond this point, you could pass out or give yourself alcohol poisoning. There’s even the risk of coma or death.

There are also the morning-after effects of alcohol: headache, upset stomach, nausea, impaired balance, and other general feelings of illness. Understand that it takes time for your body to break down alcohol and get it out of your system. Coffee won’t do it. A cold shower won’t do it. Only time—about one hour per standard drink of alcohol—will do it. So, if you’re going to drink this holiday season, here are some tips to do it safely.

  • Eat something. Food slows down alcohol absorption into your bloodstream. So, if you’re going to drink, make sure there’s food in your stomach.
  • Pace yourself. Limit yourself to no more than one drink an hour. This gives your body time to break the alcohol down. Also, remember that moderate alcohol consumption is no more than 1 standard drink per day for women or 2 standard drinks for men. One standard drink is 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, 8–9 ounces of malt liquor, and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
  • Alternate with nonalcoholic drinks. Make every other drink either water or some other nonalcoholic beverage.
  • Plan a safe way home. Designate a driver—before you start drinking. Or cab it.

Above all, remember that alcohol is an addition to the celebration—not the celebration itself. We wish you a very happy, healthy and safe holiday season!