The holiday season in the United States officially winds down with one last hurrah on New Year’s Eve. Traditionally, the change from the old year to the new year is celebrated at midnight with a champagne toast; however, many people gather for parties and social events for hours before ringing in the time change.

In the US, social events often involve social alcohol consumption; the central nervous system depressant lowers inhibitions and allows people to relax. However, when a person consumes too much alcohol – typically when their liver does not metabolize alcohol as quickly as the person drinks, and the excess alcohol stays in the blood stream until it can be processed – they can suffer serious side effects. Alcohol poisoning is a serious problem, but other dangers include poor decision-making, which can lead to drunk driving; blacking out; and other health problems.

According toTIME Magazine, New Year’s Eve is one of the most dangerous holidays of the year because consuming alcohol is part of the celebration for many people and due to drunk driving and related accidents, deaths spike during the transition to the new year.

Here are three alcohol-related problems frequently seen on New Year’s Eve and Day.

Alcohol Poisoning and ER Visits

Binge drinking is a serious problem for many people over the course of the year, but it gets worse during the holiday season, especially on New Year’s Eve. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that one in six American adults binge drinks four times per month, averaging eight drinks in a binge drinking period. Binge drinking is a common problem among people ages 18-34, and also among people age 65 and older; in fact, older adults binge drink an average of 5-6 times per month. Men typically binge drink more than women, but recent numbers show that women are beginning to binge drink more often.

Although alcohol consumption among underage people, typically ages 12-20, has declined from 2002 to 2013, per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a study published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) showed that New Year’s Day in 2009 represented an especially deadly year for underage people who drank at a New Year’s party. According to SAMHSA, emergency room visits and admissions for alcohol-related injuries and alcohol poisoning were up more than 250 percent. While this represented a bad year for underage drinkers, it highlights a consistent jump in ER visits during this time.

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
  • Confusion or delirium
  • Vomiting
  • Reduced, irregular, or slow breathing
  • Hypothermia
  • Cold, clammy, or blue skin
  • Falling unconscious or passing out

With more people drinking, more people suffer alcohol poisoning. The hospital at the University of California, San Francisco reported in 2011 that the number of ER visits due to alcohol poisoning around the holidays rose, with an overall 50 percent increase in holiday ER visits in 2011, UCSF found that 70 percent of those were specifically due to alcohol poisoning. New York City noted in 2015 that alcohol-related ER visits more than doubled on New Year’s Day, compared to the average over the rest of the year. Many of these were due to drunk driving, but many were caused by alcohol poisoning.

People who begin to suffer alcohol poisoning need emergency medical attention. They may not display all of these symptoms, but even noticing one or two means the person is beginning to suffer a potentially deadly medical issue. Call 911 immediately.

Drunk Driving Accidents

AAA keeps statistics of traffic patterns, especially around the holidays, and the travel organization notes that about 95 million Americans hit the road around Christmas and New Year’s Day every year. Because so many people rely on vehicles to get them to and from events with friends and family, the risk of being in a car accident is much higher anyway. When holiday revelry is added to traffic, drunk driving accidents go up.

Holidays in general lead to a spike in alcohol consumption, and New Year’s Eve, traditionally celebrated with champagne toasts and excessive alcohol consumption, is one of the deadliest. According to the National Safety Council, between 2007 and 2011, about 42 percent of traffic accident deaths were due to drinking and driving. Aetna Insurance notes that 48 percent of driving deaths on the highway on New Year’s Eve are alcohol-related, suggesting that many people attempt to drive a great distance, which can result in a serious accident. In comparison, 35 percent of car accident deaths on Christmas were due to driving under the influence. SafeAuto.com reported that alcohol-related car accident deaths peaked for the year on New Year’s Eve between 2008 and 2012. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) noted that drunk driving accidents in December 2015 were close to four times higher at night than during the day, indicating that many people who went to holiday events, including New Year’s Eve events, attempted to drive home intoxicated.

Other Health Problems

Alcohol can lead directly to physical danger, but there are other issues linked to increased alcohol consumption, which tends to happen around holidays like New Year’s Eve.

Serious memory problems may occur with excessive drinking. When a person drinks too much alcohol and is intoxicated, this is typically referred to as “blacking out.” However, this phenomenon can occur with a blood alcohol concentration as low as 0.1 percent. While this is well over the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent, it is a level that many people can hit quickly while socializing at a holiday gathering. Once BAC reaches 0.22 percent, there is a 50 percent chance that the person will black out and forget the evening.

Even if a person does not drive while drunk, they are at an increased risk of hurting themselves while intoxicated. They are more likely to fall and cause themselves bodily injury. Reduced inhibitions may lead to unprotected or nonconsensual sexual contact. People with chronic health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease may find these conditions triggered, which could lead to a visit to the emergency room.

Do You Want to Stop Drinking?

Treatment Is Needed for Alcohol Abuse

Binge drinking is a serious problem around holidays like New Year’s Eve, but it is only one type of problem drinking. People who binge drink consistently, people who feel like they need alcohol to feel normal, or people who feel like they are not able to stop drinking, even when they want to, may struggle with alcohol use disorder. This condition can lead to long-term health problems and a lower quality of life.

The best path for most people is to get medical supervision to detox safely from alcohol use and then enter a comprehensive rehabilitation program. Rehabilitation programs offer individual, group, and family therapy to help the person mend relationships, build a sober support network, and learn better coping mechanisms for stressful events in life. It is possible to live a healthy, sober life, thanks to evidence-based advances in addiction rehabilitation programs.