Tipple, but don’t topple during the boozy season

christmas_lightsGENEVA, SWITZERLAND / AMONG THE VINES – The season for good cheer means too much booze for some. Food for thought as the holiday season moves into full swing:

Hangovers, too, can impair your driving

If you’re counting the hours until you’re officially sober enough to drive, think again. New research shows that while your alcohol level might drift down to below the legal drink limit, a hangover might leave you unable to drive well.

The study, carried out in the UK and The Netherlands and led by the University of Bristol, “tested people who had been drinking the night before and made them take a 20-minute simulation of driving in a mixed urban and rural setting,” reports Drinks Business, an industry web site. “The study found the participants had significant increases in speed variability, reaction time, driving errors and deviation from driving position.”

The article also carries the helpful reminder that you should be aware you might still have too much alcohol in your system to drive in the morning. UK police are quoted as saying that they have seen a 4 percent increase in one year in the number of people arrested for being over the limit the morning after.

Reminder, call Nez Rouge rather than drive

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Nez Rouge Switzerland

Nez Rouge is back in service now for all of Switzerland, for the holidays: they will pick you up, with your car, and drive you home. The service, which operates with 800 volunteers during the holiday period is free – they are not competing with taxis – but a donation is expected. Nez Rouge details, Events.GenevaLunch.com “resources”

CHUV in Lausanne to open new unit for alcohol-related emergencies

The number of serious alcohol abuse cases – drinkers treated at the Chuv university hospitals emergency room – have climbed sharply, from 596 cases en 2000 to 1,674 in 2010, according to a report by 24 Heures last February. The figure grew nearly fivefold for people ages 18 to 30, from 125 to 544 cases and more teenagers and even children as young as 11 are showing up in emergency rooms, sometimes in comas.

Canton Vaud in early December agreed to open a new drying-out hospital unit to handle the problem, after a lengthy study that involved hospital medical staff, alcohol specialists, social workers and police. A visit to Zurich’s centre convinced the Lausanne group that it did not want a similar solution, where drunks are put in a police cell and must pay CHF450-600 francs for their overnight stay.

A hospital unit has several advantages, canton Vaud decided: it will free up badly needed emergency room beds at the Chuv, already short on “Urgences” space, it places sometimes-violent drunken patients with staff who are trained to deal with them, and patients would routinely have contact before leaving with personnel trained in prevention. “Vulnerable” patients who are alcohol-dependent or bingeing for other reasons need to be encouraged to come in, not chased away by the stigma of a night in a police drunks tank or by the cost, argue proponents of the Vaud approach.

Battle over prevention efforts versus taking responsibility carries on

Groups working to strengthen Switzerland’s efforts to prevent alcohol abuse were outnumbered in parliament in September, but they may be back with a popular initiative.

Both houses in September voted down a programme put forward by Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, minister for the economy, that would have banned nighttime store sales of alcohol, from 22:00-06:00. Parliament also lifted the ban on happy hours in bars and restaurants. Widmer-Schlumpf angrily noted that “Alcohol abuse costs the country CHF2.3 billion every year – with an another CHF1 billion in indirect costs to companies.”

Parliament preferred to increase the tax on imported hard liquor.

Nicolas Bertholet, head of the alcohol unit at the Chuv, told Le Courier, Geneva newspaper, in November that a parliamentary committee prefers to see the accent put on personal responsibility, but that many of those treated are alcohol-dependent and unable to take that responsibility because of their illness. He argues that cheap booze and easy access are part of the problem and that it’s been shown getting rid of them is a “very efficient but unpopular” solution.

At the other end of the spectrum is a proposal by a member of Zurich’s right-wing UDC Party that will be debated in the spring session of parliament, to make anyone using emergency services after excessive drinking pay for the cost.