2010-12-10 / Top Stories

City Warns Of Excessive Drinking

New York City is a great place to spend the holidays, but too much drink can turn a celebration into a tragedy. Alcohol kills some 1,500 New Yorkers every year, and it lands thousands more in the hospital. As the Health Department reported this month, excessive drinking prompted more than 70,000 emergency-room visits among New York City adults last year alone. In the wake of that finding, the agency is offering New Yorkers a reality check. “Two drinks ago you could still get yourself home,” says the hand-scrawled note on a sign going up in subways this week. It shows a welldressed woman sitting slumped and alone, her belongings strewn beside her on a dingy underground stairway.

In another poster, a young man in business attire stares into the camera, bleeding and bruised after a barroom altercation. “Two drinks ago you would have walked away,” the tagline says. “Stop drinking while you’re still thinking.” The new ads will run in Spanish and English throughout the holiday season.

“Alcohol takes a devastating toll on our health and well being,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “New Yorkers are surrounded by ads selling alcohol, and the messages are enticing. Beer, wine and liquor may look like passports to sophistication and romance. But even two extra drinks can turn a good time into a disaster. If the images on these signs help drive that message home, they could spare New Yorkers a lot of needless suffering.”

Excessive drinking impairs judgment and coordination, triggering violence and unintentional injuries. And the Health Department’s recent studies suggest that many New Yorkers are at risk. More than 40 percent of the city’s adult drinkers say they have engaged in “binge” drinking (defined by health experts as five or more drinks on one occasion) during the previous month. The problem is even more common among under-age drinkers, more than half of whom report a binge in the previous month.

Among the 1,537 adult New Yorkers who died from alcohol overuse in 2008, chronic liver disease was the leading direct cause, accounting for 340 deaths (22 percent). Alcohol contributed to an estimated 30 accidents and poisonings the same year, as well as 230 homicides, 100 suicides and 75 motor vehicle related deaths. While launching the subway campaign, the Health Department is releasing a new health bulletin to help people gauge their alcohol intake and avoid overuse. The bulletin offers specific definitions of a drink – 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor – and explains how people’s tolerance for alcohol can vary. As a rule, men should have no more than two drinks a day or 14 in a one-week period. For women, the upper limits for healthy drinking are one a day or seven over the course of a week.

The Health Bulletin also describes warning signs for alcohol dependence – such as increased tolerance and uncontrollable cravings – and offers a simple self-test to help readers identify drinking problems. The bulletin also offers resources for anyone needing help with an alcohol problem.

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