This is the big party night, and most parties include some kind of alcohol on hand. Alcohol has been a part of almost every society that roamed the earth, and you'd think by now we would have learned to live with it - or without it.
But for hosts and guests alike, here are some facts about the drug that may help make your New Year's party more of a pleasant memory.
Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is a psychoactive drug found in beer, wine and hard liquor. It is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars and starches.
Public facilities selling alcohol must be licensed in the United States and face serious penalties for serving intoxicated guests. In homes, few such limits exist. But every serious host must know how much to pour for guests - and when not to pour. Guests who overindulge are no fun at parties, and smart hosts do their best to discourage binging.
The standard drink (see below) is the best way to measure alcoholic drinks. Most mixology guides use the standard drink measure, which for hard liquor is a shot glass.
Besides being careful about one's own drinking, it's good to care about other people's drinking. Don't pressure guests to drink alcohol. If they drink too much, don't let them drive - call a taxi or invite them to stay overnight.
Meanwhile, share a cup of good cheer with friends and salute 2006.
Here's what veteran bartender Mark Nadreau at Adele's Bar has to say about alcohol and guests:
"It's easy to know after a while behind the bar when a guest has had too much. Sometimes you can tell by the way they sit down. But everybody is different. If I have a guest who to me has had too much already, I don't serve.
"Hosts do no one a favor when they go overboard with liquor. The standard shot glass is good measure."
How about letting guests mix their own?
"Most people don't know when enough is enough. The good host does the pouring."
What about guests who become obnoxious?
"Best thing to do is stay calm, take your time with them. Always look them in the eye, and offer them a bed for the night. When a guest gets out of control at the bar, I try to calm them down, get them to take a cab. Gotta stay calm, don't let things get out of hand."
What does a bartender drink?
"I have a small glass of wine with dinner and a single beer before closing. No more; I want to enjoy the morning on the ski runs."
The standard drink
What do we get when we order a drink in a bar? It depends on the beverage. A standard drink is: One 12-ounce beer, one five-ounce glass of wine or one 1.5-ounce shot of distilled spirits. Each of these drinks contains about half an ounce of alcohol.
Based on current dietary guidelines, moderate drinking for women is defined as an average of one drink or less per day. Moderate drinking for men is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an average of two drinks or less per day.
Heavy drinking is consuming alcohol in excess of one drink per day on average for women and greater than two drinks per day on average for men.
One 12-ounce beer has about the same amount of alcohol as one five-ounce glass of wine or one 1.5-ounce shot of liquor. (Some beers and liquors have a higher alcohol content than others, however. Wine rarely goes above the 13 percent level.)
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine, passes into the bloodstream, then is widely distributed throughout the body.
The effects of alcohol on the body are directly related to the amount consumed. In small amounts, alcohol can have a relaxing effect. Adverse effects of alcohol can include impaired judgment, reduced reaction time, slurred speech and unsteady gait (i.e., difficulty walking). When consumed rapidly and in large amounts, alcohol can also result in coma and death.
In addition, alcohol can interact with a number of prescription and nonprescription medications in ways that can intensify the effect of alcohol, of the medications themselves, or both. Furthermore, alcohol use by pregnant women can cause serious damage to the developing fetus.
To enjoy alcohol without risking health, men should drink no more than four standard drinks each day, women should have no more than two standard drinks a day, and everyone should have at least two alcohol-free days a week.
Not very many hosts stage a party serving only alcoholic drinks. Buffets or finger food are almost always offered, and with good reason - they slow the absorption of alcohol. Other beverages without alcohol should always be on hand.
Drinking slowly over the life of the party - or switching to the nonalcoholic drink - is one way to ease the effects of alcohol. There are myths, such as consuming lots of oils before drinking alcohol will slow its effect. Not true. Nor will coffee immediately sober one up.
The subject of many cartoons, the painful hangover has to be experienced just once to be avoided in the future - for smart drinkers, that is. The sad truth is there is no remedy for a hangover. Again, many myths about hangover cures exist; medical science has yet to find one that truly works. And the "hair of the dog" is just a delaying tactic.
Serving alcohol when alcoholics are present
This is a major problem at parties. The host cannot simply not serve alcohol, when guests expect it. It is the alcoholic's responsibility to avoid drinking. It is also the host's duty not to try to force "just one" drink on an alcoholic. There is no simple solution to this problem.
• Contact Sam Bauman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1236.