It’s the time of year to consider promoting responsible use of alcohol, writes Karalyn Huxhagen

The scenes from the recent Melbourne Cup of women lying on the ground in their own vomit being attended to by ambulance officers is a timely reminder about the responsible consumption of alcohol. It is very easy to aspirate your own vomit when in a drugged or alcohol induced state which can lead to asphyxiation and death if not found quickly enough.

Alcohol intoxication puts people at risk of disease and injury. Alcohol can damage vital body organs e.g. brain, liver, heart, kidneys, and lungs.

Alcohol can also make people more likely to act violently and aggressively. They may break the law, or harm themselves and others. Risky sexual behaviour could lead to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) which in turn can have lifelong consequences. 

In cases of extreme intoxication, alcohol poisoning can result. The intoxicated person needs to seek medical care if they experience: sudden difficulty breathing or chest pain, a seizure, extreme sadness and depression, hallucinations and/or an inability to stop vomiting.

I was lucky enough to find my own brother very close to death and with the help of an ambulance officer we revived him enough for transport to hospital where he remained in a coma for 10 days before starting to recover.

Every year when I perform my CPR update the trainer tells me that very few resuscitations are successful but you have to try. We were lucky but many are not.

Young people are found in gutters and on benches near popular nightclubs. They fall down and due to many reasons including vomit; position or other obstructions that restrict their airways they die.

Coming into the festive season there are many Christmas parties and social activities. Responsible consumption of alcohol and food needs to be considered.

If you are planning a staff Christmas party consider the following:

  • Establishment of ground rules for sensible staff party behaviour.
  • Sending out an email prior to the Christmas party reminding all staff of the company’s policy regarding acceptable behaviour at social events.
  • Restrictions on the use of illicit drugs at the staff Christmas party.
  • Restrictions on arriving intoxicated to the Christmas party.
  • Organising maxi taxis/bus to take attendees home.
  • Restricting the bar tab to a reasonable level.
  • Ensuring there is plenty of food and water to offset the consumption of alcohol.
  • Be vigilant for drink spikers and bag snatchers.
  • No posting of the event on social media pages before the event.
  • Ensuring all staff are aware of the social media policy for the business.
  • Appoint a non-drinking person outside the group to act as chaperone/security guard.

One pharmacy I worked in gave out small ‘life saving’ packs to each attendee of their Christmas party. The packs contained Panadol, rehydration sachets, taxi card, Berocca, disposable alcohol meter and enough money to call a cab from a pay phone.

You may wish to read the employer and employee Christmas party responsibilities on the websites of some of the major legal firms. For example: Slater and Gordon; Turnbull Hill.

Drink spiking has become a significant problem at parties and going out with friends. One of my pharmacy colleagues recently had her drink spiked and when tested she was found to have ingested cocaine. She was very ill but thankfully was out with friends who quickly cared for her and called the authorities.

Bag snatchers not only steal cash and credit cards and attempt to clear out savings accounts but they also use identity such as a drivers licence for identity theft.

They may post adulterated photos on Facebook or similar pages. They may post adulterated photos on porn pages and cause significant grief with employers and relationships. They also have access to house and car keys and the address from the driver’s licence and may quickly clean out the home and steal the car before the loss of belongings is reported.

Pharmacies are often the place for dealing with the morning after the big event. Recovering from a big night out could include:

  • Rehydration
    • Oral rehydration solutions (do you keep some of these cold in your pharmacy refrigerator and freezer?)
    • Plenty of water
  • Headache control
    • Analgesics
    • Cool packs
  • Indigestion
    • Antacids
    • H2 receptor antagonists
    • Proton pump inhibitors
  • Stomach cramps
    • Simethicone
    • Hysocine
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
    • Rehydration
    • Loperamide

Prevention is also an area that pharmacy has a role to play. In our pharmacy we sell the disposable alcohol meters which are single use to show the party goer whether they are over the limit to drive home.

We also have a role in displaying material that alerts partygoers to the dangers of unplanned sexual activity and the lifelong ramifications of this activity e.g. chlamydia, other sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancies. Rehydration displays should include its role in helping to recover from a big night out.

We all want the work Christmas party to be remembered for the fun event of letting your hair down, having a great time and enjoying yourself with your colleagues.

It is not fun to spend the night in accident and emergency being treated for excessive ingestion of alcohol and/or illicit drugs.

Karalyn Huxhagen is a community pharmacist and was 2010 Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Pharmacist of the Year. She has been named winner of the 2015 PSA Award for Quality Use of Medicines in Pain Management and is group facilitator of the Mackay Pain Support Group.