By the HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools for the Havre Daily News
It's the time of year when many enjoy getting together to celebrate with family, friends and co-workers. Statistics remind us how important it is to plan an event where nonalcoholic-beverage service and alternative transportation options are a priority.
According to the Montana Department of Transportation's Traffic Safety Division, in 2003 one of every three Hill County motor vehicle crashes resulting in injury was alcohol-related. That translates to 37 people who were injured in these accidents. The December holidays are among the deadliest times of the year. Montana, unfortunately, has the highest number of alcohol-related crash deaths and injuries per capita in the nation.
Serving alcohol at holiday parties may expose you to risks you weren't aware of if you haven't planned ahead. Did you know that party hosts can be held legally responsible for injuries or damages that occur as a result of the alcohol provided at a holiday celebration?
Individuals may also be responsible for guests at functions they organize, like company parties, and may be held responsible for the safety and behavior of party guests until they're sober, not just until they leave the party or function. Legal liability can only be determined in a court of law, but history demonstrates that the risk of a lawsuit and the size of settlements surrounding alcohol-related incidents are rapidly increasing.
Being a responsible host goes a long way to ensure that all guests will be comfortable, have a good time, and arrive home safely. Reduce risks and increase good times by following these tips for responsible hosting:
As the host of a party, don't drink too much yourself. You can stay on top of and avoid potential problems when you can think clearly and act quickly.
Don't make drinking the focus of the event. Make food an important part of the activity. Plan music, games and other entertainment for the guests.
Don't point out the bar to each arriving guest. Take the attitude that cocktails are simply one form of refreshment, and that nonalcoholic drinks are just as acceptable.
Prior to the party, find out how guests will be going home from your party. Designate a driver and encourage guests to leave their cars at home if they plan on drinking.
Mix and serve drinks yourself or designate an experienced bartender instead of having an open bar. Don't serve doubles, and keep shot glasses, jiggers or self-measuring one-ounce bottle spouts handy to measure drinks. Guests are less likely to drink excessively when standard measures are used. Never serve alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 or to anyone who is already intoxicated.
If you serve a punch with alcohol, use a noncarbonated base such as fruit juice. The body absorbs alcohol faster when mixed with carbonation.
Always have nonalcoholic drinks, such as coffee, pop, fruit punch, juice and water available.
Always serve food with alcohol. It is better to eat while drinking than to drink on an empty stomach. High protein and carbohydrate foods like cheese, meats, veggies, breads and light dips are especially good. They taste great and do not make guests thirsty, as salty, sweet or greasy foods do.
Do not force drinks on your guests or rush to refill their glasses when empty. Some guests may not wish to appear rude and will accept drinks they do not want.
If you observe a guest drinking too much, engage that person in conversation to slow down the drinking, offer high protein or high fat food, or offer to make the next drink, using less alcohol and mixing it with a noncarbonated base.
Avoid physical activities when you serve alcohol. People are more prone to injury or mishap after drinking.
Stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the party is over. Bring out coffee and alcohol-free drinks and food. But remember that coffee and cold showers do not make a person sober. Only time allows the body to consume and rid itself of alcohol.
The liver can handle only about one drink per hour. One drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or about 1 ounce of 100-proof liquor, or 1 ounce of 80-proof liquor. When more than one drink in an hour is consumed, the liver cannot keep up and the alcohol begins to circulate in the bloodstream, affecting the brain.
Other factors can make alcohol affect a person even more strongly, such as not eating for an extended period of time, or being nervous or anxious or even excited about something. Some medications can also increase the effect of alcohol on a person. A person's build, size and gender can make a difference too. But the rule is always the same: The liver just isn't going to work faster and there is no way to make it work faster.
Though an unfamiliar term a decade ago, today we recognize the phrase "responsible hosting" as encompassing everything from planning the party menu to assessing how guests will get home safely once the party is over. A responsible party host can prevent friends and loved ones from becoming the next alcohol-related statistic.
When the party is over, if a guest has been drinking and should not drive:
Suggest that you or a sober friend drive your alcohol-impaired friend home. His or her car can always be picked up at another time.
Suggest that your impaired friend stay overnight in your home. This may sound inconvenient, but you could be saving your friend's - or someone else's - life.
Call a taxi and pay for the ride. It's hard to object to a free ride.
Whatever you do, do not give in. Friends do not let friends drink and then drive. In the morning you will have a safer and maybe even a closer friend.
The HELP Committee, Hill County Safe Kids/Safe Communities Coalition, Hill County Tavern Association, Hill County DUI Task Force, and local law enforcement have again teamed up to make the season safer by initiating the local campaign, "Sober & Safe - Designate a Driver and Host Responsibly." Guides for responsible party hosting, including nonalcoholic beverage ideas, and additional pointers to ensure safe parties, can be obtained by calling 265-6206.