Drink safely this Purim to avoid a trip to the ER

Drink responsibly this Purim so that the Emergency Room staff, and your liver, can have a break.

 People raise a toast with whiskey glasses. Purim and St. Patrick's Day have drinking in common. (photo credit: PIXABAY)
People raise a toast with whiskey glasses. Purim and St. Patrick's Day have drinking in common.
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

The Hebrew month of Adar has arrived and we are into the month of joy and happiness and are all awaiting Purim. Many people in my neighborhood have been discussing the goings-on during Purim. Yes, there is an obligation on Purim to drink some wine; more than one regularly does. But just as fasting on Yom Kippur must be done in a way that doesn’t endanger your health, similarly the Purim drinking must sensible and safe.

On Purim, people drink alcohol, and many become quite inebriated. This, in turn, leads to less than desirable behaviors, and rarely a year goes by that someone doesn’t get hurt – or worse. I know doctors who have worked emergency room shifts over Purim, and they tell me that it isn’t a pretty sight.

The admittance of people into the emergency room is nonstop, and the people coming in are injured from falls or have trauma inflicted by other means. Sometimes, people have had so much to drink, they lose consciousness and must be monitored. Unfortunately, there have been tragedies on Purim both in Israel and abroad.

Dangers of alcohol

About 35 years ago, my community organized what was the first Hatzalah in Israel. I served in it for almost seven years. During that time, I saw it all. Resuscitations, births and everything in between. But perhaps my most memorable call from those days was one morning at 8:45 a.m.

I was out of the neighborhood but not far away when I heard on my radio that a girl at a local seminary wasn’t breathing. My first thoughts were that given the age of this person, perhaps her roommates were mistaken. Maybe it was just a seizure? Unfortunately, when I arrived, this young lady was indeed not breathing, and had no pulse.

 REVELERS CELEBRATE Purim in Bnei Brak, last year. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) REVELERS CELEBRATE Purim in Bnei Brak, last year. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

I joined the efforts to resuscitate her. Advanced life support was summoned and arrived quickly. Just as they got to the scene, we were able to restore a pulse, and we continued to assist her breathing. The girl was never to breath on her own again, and several weeks later, she passed away.

This was neither my first or last attempt at CPR, but it was the only time that I performed CPR because of the overconsumption of alcohol. Yes – this girl had been out the night before and had consumed more than half a bottle of whisky. She came back to her room that night and fell asleep. Her roommates checked on her before they went to eat breakfast the next morning.

ALTHOUGH IN a deep sleep, she seemed okay. But while they were eating breakfast, their roommate vomited. Because she was drunk, she didn’t wake and she aspirated vomit into her lungs. That’s what happened in this case, and it had a tragic ending.

Alcohol is potentially deadly, especially when used in excess. But even when used in modest amounts, damage can occur. We already know that people who are alcohol impaired have slower reaction times resulting in car accidents. We know the damage that alcohol does to the liver which can end in cirrhosis, then needing a liver transplant or getting liver cancer.

In a recent interview on The Exam Room podcast, Dr. Kim Williams, former president of the American College of Cardiology was speaking specifically about the downside of alcohol for heart health but said that at this point, your cardiologist, oncologist, endocrinologist, and neurologist will all tell you about the very damaging effects of alcohol in their various fields of medicine. Yes, drinking alcohol ups your risk of most diseases. Let’s take a look at both the short and long term negatives of alcohol consumption.

In the short term, drowsiness, a sense of euphoria, mood changes, impulsive behavior, slurred speech, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, head pain, changes in perception, loss of coordination, trouble focusing and even loss of consciousness or gaps in memory are among the symptoms one can experience.

In the long term, consequences of alcohol result in persistent changes in mood including anxiety, insomnia, a weakened immune system which leads to frequent illness. Changes in libido and changes in appetite and weight. In addition, problems with memory and concentration can become common and maintaining relationships and inability to focus are also common.

Given all this, how do we reconcile the potential dangers of alcohol consumption with our Jewish traditions and even Jewish law. After all, our Rabbis have told us there is no joy unless there is meat and wine. “Now that the Temple is not standing, there is no joy without wine, as it says (Psalms 104) ‘And wine will rejoice the heart of man.’ (Tractate Pesachim 109).”

BUT HOW much wine do we need to bring joy to our hearts? Not as much as you think. We generally are using wine for Kiddush (sanctification) on Shabbat night and the following day. The same goes for each and every holiday and then of course, our upcoming Purim holiday where drinking alcohol in abundance has become the norm for many people.

In addition, it is common to have a small amount of whisky after the gefilte fish on Shabbat or to have some as part of celebrations such as engagements, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, weddings and other celebrations. So, how do we balance the use of alcohol as a celebratory enhancer with the inherent dangers that can be involved, especially as the most recent research shows no health benefit to its consumption?

If all we are talking about is 4-5 ounces (around 120 ml) once or twice a week, harm would be negligible if at all. One thing I started doing is mixing my wine with grape juice. Keep in mind that grape juice has the same beneficial polyphenol as wine, resveratrol. It was never the alcohol in dry red wine that provided health benefits.

As we know that even moderate consumption can cause harm, just keep it to the bare minimum. And if on Purim I drink a little more, it’s only one day. But a little more really means – a little more.

There is no question that we have to be very careful about our drinking. This is something that when it goes beyond the limits, can end tragically. Also, there is always the danger of alcohol addiction, which will bring on all of the related diseases we’ve mentioned.

A few years ago, a few boys were participating in the Ashkenazi tradition on the first Friday night after a male’s birth by shalom zachor-hopping in a New York suburb, going to several celebrations. One of them found some very good single malt scotches and overconsumed. He went to sleep Friday night, but like the girl we spoke about at the beginning of this article, he vomited, aspirated and never woke up. Another very unfortunate tragedy that could have – and should have – been avoided.

Let’s work together to make this Purim a day of happiness and joy that it is supposed to be. Have a glass or two of some special wine with your delicious Purim meal. Take your children dressed up for Purim to deliver mishloach manot (sending small food gifts to friends, neighbors, or relatives). Enjoy the day! Do not drink too much, and certainly do not drive once you have consumed alcohol.

Let’s give our emergency services and the doctors working in the emergency rooms a break this year so they can enjoy Purim as well. Keeping alcohol consumption to a bare minimum will “add hours to your days, days to your years, and years to your life.”

The writer is a health and wellness coach and personal trainer with 23 years of professional experience. He is director of The Wellness Clinic, and can be reached at alan@alanfitness.com.