As the silly season begins, Louis Roller takes a look at navigating the pitfalls of overindulgence

Overindulgence: to allow yourself to have too much of something enjoyable, especially food or drink: wish I hadn’t overindulged so much last night. Some people regularly overindulge in alcohol.

Source: Cambridge Dictionary

The end of the year is approaching and the prospect of celebrating with friends, colleagues or family over a drink or three seems a fitting way to honour this milestone. However, too often, the party season takes its toll on our health.

As pharmacists, we should be able to advise, ourselves our friends and our clients with handy tips to get us all through the next month without causing undue harm to your bodies and minds.

Below are some tips to assist us all.


Plan alcohol strategy: Before the party starts, plan ways to minimise alcohol intake and the effect it will have on our bodies. If that doesn’t feel festive, imagine the headache, nausea and general misery one feels, when we overindulge. Here are some pointers:

  • Eat before drinking, and eat throughout the night, too.
  • Water should be the first drink – or something soft – if possible. It will help you quench your thirst and stop the risk of sculling the first drink.
  • Drink alcoholic drinks slowly.
  • Choose low-alcohol varieties of beer or wine, or dilute alcoholic drinks.
  • Make every second drink non-alcoholic or just water.

Minimise a hangover. There’s only one way to avoid a hangover – don’t drink too much alcohol. But if one does drink a little too much, drinking more water before going to bed is recommended.

We should be sure to have water on hand to drink when we wake during the night. (Note, alcohol helps induces sleep, but it makes us wake more often, so sleep is fragmented. Overall, its effect on sleep is negative.)

Sports drinks are a popular morning after hangover fix, and while they can help rehydrate us, generally water is just as good (and has far fewer kilojoules). Sports drinks can be helpful in replacing lost electrolytes (if very dehydrated, but juice or milk will do the job too. If using a sports drink, ensure it doesn’t contain caffeine (some do) as that’s likely to make dehydration worse.

Staying safe the day after. If it has been a big night, blood alcohol levels may still be too high to drive the next day. A raised blood alcohol level, or even just a bad hangover and sleep deprivation, probably mean one should avoid going up a ladder and doing handyman jobs too. Avoid using hazardous equipment in the garden.

We should focus on rehydration (avoiding caffeinated drinks will help with this), eating small amounts of healthy foods (avoid fatty fry ups as these may make nausea worse) and resting.

Alcohol and medications: Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and it will enhance the central nervous system depressant actions of a quite a large number of medications. These include all antipsychotic drugs, many antidepressants, sedatives, hypnotics, first-generation antihistamines (available over the counter), narcotic analgesics, benzodiazepines, plus many others. These medications require the Cautionary and Advisory Label (CAL) 1 which reads:

  1. ”This medicine may cause DROWSINESS and may increase the effect of alcohol. If affected, do not drive a motor vehicle or operate machinery.”

Additionally, there is a label 1a which reads:

1a “This preparation is to aid sleep. DROWSINESS may continue the following day, do not drive a motor vehicle or operate machinery.”

This label is used for medicines specifically for sleep and include first-generation antihistamines, benzodiazepine, chloral hydrate, melatonin, zopiclone and zolpidem.

The third alcohol-warning label is:

2 . “DO NOT TAKE ALCOHOL while being treated with this medicine”.

Examples include: acitretin, chloral hydrate, disulfiram, metronidazole, tinidazole, zolpidem and zopiclone.  Unlike the medications listed under labels 1 and 1a, these medicines in combination with alcohol undergo pharmacokinetic interactions which can lead to unpleasant and potentially serious effects.


Social smoking’. “I only smoke at parties and really the occasional cigarette can’t do me any harm, can it?”  

It can indeed!

Every cigarette increases the risk of smoking-related diseases and no level of smoking is safe.

Additionally, it’s a slippery slope. When we have had “a few drinks” at a party, it is easy to lose track of how many cigarettes one has had. This matters because of the  highly addictive nature of nicotine; so what starts as an occasional habit can all too easily become regular.

It has been shown that people who describe themselves as ‘social smokers’ (saying they smoke only when out with friends) tend to under-report their habit. In reality, most of these people light up daily, half having more than five cigarettes a day and a third having more than 10 a day.


Practice portion control. Stick to small portions so we can enjoy the taste without adding too many calories to our usual diet. We shouldn’t snack mindlessly – put a small amount on our plate, and stick to a single helping. Some people find it helps to use a smaller plate – this tricks the mind into thinking we have a larger portion than we do.

Be selective. Rather than eating every sugary treat that crosses our paths, draw up a short list of our very favourite Christmas foods and give ourselves permission to indulge in just those. Aim for quality over quantity, too – it’s usually far more enjoyable to savour one really high-quality, decadent chocolate treat, than to eat an entire bag of chocolates.

Also we should avoid buying unhealthy foods to have in the house “just in case” – we tend to find it that much harder to resist temptation, and we are more likely to end up eating them ourselves to prevent them going to waste. We should fill our fridges and cupboards with healthy ingredients so we may be more  inclined to eat these instead.

Happy Christmas and a joyous and safe new year.

Associate Professor Louis Roller, from the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences Monash University, was the 2014 recipient of the PSA Lifetime Achievement Award.