Drinkaware is an independent charity working to reduce alcohol misuse and harm in the UK. We're here to help people make better choices about drinking.
Alcohol is sometimes associated with holiday relaxation. However, for some people it can be tempting to drink more than usual when taking a break from the everyday routine, especially if the weather is hot. And this can lead to taking unnecessary risks with your health, and your personal safety, while away.
The first thing to remember is that holiday drinks are likely to be stronger than you expect.
In UK pubs, a standard measure for spirits is 25ml. It's common for measures to be much larger than this in other countries, or for bar staff to pour alcohol without measuring. This makes it much harder to keep track of how much alcohol you’re drinking – especially if you add cocktails into the mix.
Holiday binge drinking can have some frightening consequences. A condition called Holiday Heart Syndrome, for example, refers to rapid, abnormal heart rhythms which occur when people drink much more than usual. However, it’s important not to be misled by the term ‘Holiday Heart’ as the condition can occur after any period of heavy drinking, not just while you’re on holiday.
The syndrome causes your blood pressure to change and increases your risk of having a heart attack1.
Drinking too much alcohol can also lead to alcohol poisoning. Acute alcohol poisoning is extremely dangerous and can result in serious harm and death. If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning you should get help immediately. Better safe than sorry should always be your motto. In many countries you can reach the emergency services by calling 112 free of charge.
It’s crucial that you are able to recognise the symptoms and know what to do if you suspect someone may have alcohol poisoning.
Remember, if you regularly drink above the UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines, of 14 units a week, spread over several days, you're increasing your risk of long-term health issues, including heart disease, cancer and dementia.
The more you drink the more likely you are to have an accident2, this could be especially dangerous in unfamiliar surroundings. So, when you're away, it's important not to go off by yourself if you've been drinking. It might be a good idea to take a small battery pack, you can slip in your bag or pocket, to make sure your phone is always charged and you are contactable.
Because it’s a depressant, alcohol slows down the brain and affects the body’s responses. It affects your muscles, making simple movements harder and can numb your senses. That's why it's particularly important to avoid swimming under the influence of alcohol3.
Binge drinking can also affect your mood. And because alcohol disrupts your sleep4 you may find yourself more irritable than when you are well-rested – not much fun for your travel companions. On top of this, when you're abroad, language barriers and cultural differences might make it difficult to understand what’s going on. Add the fact alcohol impairs judgement and this can lead to tricky or even dangerous situations.
- Stay within the UK Chief Medical Officers' low risk drinking guidelines – use our Unit and Calorie Counter when you’re abroad to check how much alcohol you’re drinking. If you're not sure of the measures being served, avoid spirits – go with bottles of beer or half pints instead.
- Drink soft drinks when you’re thirsty and alternate alcoholic drinks with water – this is particularly important when it's hot to avoid getting dehydrated
- Eat a decent meal if you’re going to be drinking alcohol – food slows down the rate that alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream
- Don't go off on your own – it's always safer to stick with a friend or in a small group, so you can look out for each other.
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Last review: 19 September 2017
Next review due: 19 September 2020