The holidays lead to celebrations and celebrations often involve alcohol. Too much alcohol can lead to all sorts of problems, not least of which are unwanted visits to the hospital emergency room.

The nation's emergency physicians, who sometimes are forced to work overtime around the holidays, are warning against excessive alcohol consumption and urging people to use good judgment.

"Very few things are more heartbreaking than to see a family suffer the loss of a loved one because of an alcohol-related tragedy, and during the holidays, people take risks," said Dr. Sandra Scheider, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.  "A fun holiday celebration can turn into a nightmare in the blink of an eye, and it can happen to anyone, and we don't want that to happen."

People impaired by alcohol are a danger to themselves and others. Seventy-nine thousand deaths occur annually as a direct result of excessive alcohol use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Many more are injured.

All kinds of accidents

"Alcohol-related injuries are not always driving-related incidents like some may assume," said Schneider. "Emergency physicians have treated patients who have been seriously injured while decorating a home for the holidays."

For example, Schneider says its not a good idea to get up on the roof to string holiday lights after having several drinks. She said emergency physicians have seen alcohol-related injuries that range from serious falls to using dangerous power tools incorrectly and doing tasks that require significant amounts of balance.

"These activities are dangerous under any circumstances," said Schneider. "When you add alcohol to the mix, all of a sudden cognitive skills are lessened, personal judgments change, and your ability to think coherently is decreased."

Health problems

Not only can too much alcohol cause accidents, heavy drinking over time can also lead to high blood pressure and even damage the heart.  Those with heart conditions can put themselves at great risk if they drink or eat excessively during the holidays.  

Some people can also be affected by a condition known as "holiday heart syndrome."   This condition is basically an irregular heartbeat pattern that may develop largely because of excessive drinking in people who are otherwise healthy individuals.

Of course, drunk driving is also a major concern throughout the year, especially around the holiday season.  

"Drunk driving is 100-percent preventable," said Schneider.  "Don't get behind the wheel of a car if you've had too much to drink.  You are not only a danger to yourself, but also to everyone else on the road."