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DHS news release

Dec. 12, 2007

Contact: Ken Palke, 503-947-5286
Program contact: Karen Wheeler, 503-945-6191


Note: This guest opinion is by Karen Wheeler, addictions policy manager, Oregon Department of Human Services

Length: 610 words

Planning required when serving alcohol at holiday parties

By Karen Wheeler

The winter holidays are a time for celebratory gatherings of family and friends, food and drink, and high spirits. But there's one ingredient that can quickly spoil the holiday cheer -- alcohol.

Give serious thought to the food and drinks you're serving; consider keeping the party alcohol-free.

However, if you decide to add alcoholic beverages to your holiday menu, a bit of planning and preparation can keep your event merry and bright.

If offering liquor, be responsible. Prepare for that relative who tends to imbibe too much. At the same time, make arrangements for non-drinkers and young people. This kind of planning will ensure that your guests have fun and don't turn into party problems or, worse yet, holiday statistics.

Traffic studies tell us that an average of four persons a year for the past 10 years have died on Oregon roads during the Christmas holiday. When New Years statistics for the decade are added in, we learn that 41 percent of the fatal holiday highway crashes involved alcohol. For all of 2005, 33.8 percent of Oregon's motor vehicle fatalities involved alcohol. And last Christmas alone, Oregon State Police arrested 59 persons for driving under the influence of intoxicants.

Keeping alcohol out of the hands of young people is always the way to go -- and it's the law. During holiday parties, keep an eye on the liquor cabinet or punchbowl when kids are around. Research tells us that one place youth procure alcohol is at parties where parents and other adults have left them unsupervised.

Instead, offer teen guests challenging games, activities like a white elephant gift exchange, fun beverages and good food. That way you won't be adding to the eye-popping statistics of Oregon's serious underage drinking problem.

For example, about 30 percent of eighth graders and 45 percent of 11th graders consumed alcohol in the past month, according to DHS reports. One in four older teens said they drank five or more alcoholic beverages within several hours (binge drinking). And more girls than ever are drinking, up from 26.4 percent in 1999 to 33.9 percent in 2006.

There's something else to remember: In Oregon, it's illegal for anyone to serve more alcohol to someone who is showing signs of having too much to drink. And, there's the third party liability law, which means that if you allow an intoxicated person to leave your party, you may be liable for any damages or injuries your guest causes to others on the way home.

Here are some tips for holiday party givers:

  • Avoid making alcohol the main focus of social events. Entertain guests with music, dancing, games, food and conversation.
  • Many adults prefer non-alcoholic beverages, so offer plenty of alcohol-free choices such as sparkling water, ciders and juice drinks, and sodas.
  • Provide guests with nutritious and appealing foods to slow the effects of alcohol. High protein and carbohydrate foods such as cheese and meats stay in the stomach much longer, which slows the rate at which the body absorbs alcohol. Avoid salty foods that encourage people to drink more.
  • Measure the correct amount of liquor into drinks (no doubles) and don't serve anyone who is under age or appears to be impaired. Don't serve alcoholic punch or other beverages that make it hard to gauge how much alcohol one consumes. Don't force alcoholic drinks on guests or rush to refill empty glasses.
  • Stop serving alcoholic beverages at least one hour before the end of the event. Serve coffee, alcohol-free beverages and desserts at that time.
  • Before the party, recruit people who won't be drinking to help ensure that everyone has a safe ride home.

Karen Wheeler is addictions policy manager for the Oregon Department of Human Services