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Hosting the Alcohol Safe Party of the Season
By: Erica B. Thom, OCPS II, Stark County Anti-Drug Coalition Manager

This holiday season is a time for both the young and old to enjoy company of family and friends. Whether you are planning a holiday party, a dinner, an informal get-together, or a company bash, your role as host is very important. It's easy to focus on planning a mouth-watering menu, or finding the perfect CD mix to keep the party going, and overlook what is perhaps your most important responsibility as host-- ensuring the safety of your guests. If alcohol is being served, holidays can be especially dangerous because more people celebrate by over-drinking, making themselves susceptible to alcohol-related problems.

If you are serving alcohol while hosting a party for adults, it’s important to remember that serving alcohol irresponsibly could open the door to civil liability if one of your guests injures another driving while under the influence of alcohol. Experiment with having an alcohol-free holiday party. According to a 2006 Gallup poll, more than one-third of American adults choose not to drink for a variety of reasons. In her latest book, "Sober Celebrations: Lively Entertaining Without the Spirits," noted chef Liz Scott provides tips for a memorable holiday party: "Good company, great food and a warm, winning atmosphere. . . . The truth is the availability of alcoholic beverages at social events means very little to the majority of people. Surprised? So was I."

If you are a parent, teen holiday parties are particularly important. Incidents of teen alcohol poisoning and other alcohol-related injuries and deaths are common during the holiday season. In fact, alcohol-related automobile accidents are the leading cause of death for 15-24 year-olds. It is imperative that parents discuss the dangers of alcohol use with their teens and encourage them to participate in alcohol-free social activities.

If you allow your young person to host a holiday party, it is important to remember that you could be held liable for both criminal and civil penalties if alcohol is served to under-age guests. The legal drinking age in Ohio is 21. This can create huge concerns regarding college students who are under 21 and celebrating during the holidays. Students at public universities in Ohio who are found guilty of alcohol-related crimes will lose all state-funded financial aid for two years. In addition, a person who provides or permits another to provide alcohol to an underage person is guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor with penalties of up to six months imprisonment, a $1,000 fine or both. (See Ohio Revised Code §4301.69)

Here are some helpful tips for planning a great alcohol-safe party:
- Keep the party jumping! Encourage lively conversation and group activities. Entertain guests with music, dancing and games that keep the focus on fun - not on alcohol.
- Prepare plenty of foods so guests will not drink on an empty stomach. Avoid too many salty foods which tend to make people thirsty. Offer high protein and carbohydrate foods like cheese and meats that stay in the stomach much longer, slowing the rate at which the body absorbs alcohol.
- Provide a variety of non-alcoholic beverages for those who prefer not to drink alcohol. You could even hold a contest to create non-alcoholic drink recipes.
- If you prepare an alcoholic punch, use a non-carbonated base, like a fruit juice. Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream faster when mixed with a carbonated base.
- Stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the party ends, because only time sobers an individual who has been drinking. It can take up to 2-3 hours for a person to metabolize one ounce of alcohol. Instead, serve coffee, non-alcoholic beverages and desserts at that time.
- If some guests have too much to drink, drive them home, arrange for alternate transportation, or have them spend the night.
- Keep the phone numbers of several cab companies handy.
- Don't let anyone who is obviously intoxicated drive. If they insist, take their keys, ask for help from other guests, or temporarily disable the car. If all else fails, call the police. Remember, you can be held responsible!

1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The NCADI Reporter. November 26, 2001. Party Plannig Tips for an Alcohol-Safe and Drug-Free Holiday Season to Remember, Last referenced 11/28/07.

2. Ohio Laws. Party Smart. Last referenced 11/28/07.

3. Planning a Safe Holiday Party.

4. Jura Koncius & Groer, Annie “Sharing the Holiday Spirit Without The Spirits, Nondrinkers, Too, Could Use a Cup Of Good Cheer.” The Washington Post. Dec 21, 2006


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