New Year's Eve is a time for fun, friendship and laughter. At Swanswell, we love a party too, so we hope that everyone will have a great time and see the New Year in safely.
Because we work with people who struggle with problem alcohol and drug use, I'm used to hearing stories which are troubling and, I guess, I have become a bit desensitised over the years.
But back in September, Vera Baird QC, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, spoke at Swanswell's fringe event at the Labour Party Conference. She told a story that I'd like to share with you ahead of the New Year festivities.
If you're planning a night out - or if you have a young person you care about, who will be heading out for the evening - please take a moment to listen to what Vera has to say in this video.
It's not an easy thing to hear, and I don't want to scare you, but if it helps to keep you and the people you care about safe, it's worth it.
General stereotypes of people who have drunk too much are either that they're funny, or that they're stupid; society rarely thinks of them as vulnerable - but they are.
So what can we do to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe? It's easy to say 'don't get drunk' but it can be hard to stay sober on party night. However, problem drinking is avoidable and preventable, so please feel free not to drink to excess, or at all, if that works for you. Plan ahead for how you will say no to alcohol, and stick to it.
But if you or your friends are drinking on a big night out like New Year's Eve, there's a chance that things might go too far, so get real and plan ahead. Swanswell's harm minimisation tips are a useful starting point, and here are some more top tips for staying safe on party night:
Top tips for staying safe on party night (based on advice from Thames Valley Police):
• Plan your night out before going out and stick to your plans
• Let someone know where you are and when you'll be back
• Make sure your phone is fully charged, and has credit, just in case you need to call someone for help later
• Make sure your money, phone and other personal items are not on display
• Keep some emergency cash in a separate pocket or safe place, in case you lose your bag or wallet
• Keep the number of a reliable taxi service (or three - they are often busy at New Year) with your emergency cash
• Keep an eye on your friends while you're out and stick together
• Leave the club or pub with a friend or group of friends, don't wander out alone or leave with people you don't know well
• Decide how you'll get home safely at the end of the night:
• Arrange a lift home with someone you trust (friends/family) or pre-book a licensed taxi
• If no one you know can take you home, call a reliable taxi service but ask the driver to confirm your name as the person they're collecting (don't volunteer the information first), before you get in
• If you're using public transport, try to sit near the driver - don't sit on an empty deck
• Don't walk home alone at night but if you have to, stick to busy, well-lit areas (avoid dimly lit and deserted areas, dark paths, alleys, subways and car parks)
• Don't drive the morning after - you may still be well over the limit
Now, back to the video - I'd also like to applaud the door staff in the North East for adopting a pro-safety approach to intoxicated customers. It's good to think that, if a night out goes bad, there will be someone there to help.
And we can all do our bit - if you see someone who looks the worse for wear, please get help for them as safely as you can (and it's important that you stay safe while you do so).
They may seem funny, or you might even think they are stupid for getting in that state, but until they get help, please remember that they are also vulnerable.
Statistically, New Year's Eve is a risky time and one of the busiest times for medical teams and police officers. During this 24-hour period alone, excessive alcohol consumption costs the NHS around £23 million to deal with.
London Ambulance Service reported receiving almost 11 calls a minute in the early hours of New Year's Day 2011 - the majority were alcohol-related.
In the West Midlands, Police said they received 1,200 emergency calls by 3.30am, with the ambulance service dealing with just over 2,000 calls between 8pm and 5am (Guardian).
Behind each of those numbers is a real person, just like you, me, and the 17-year-old girl in Vera's story, who set out to have a great night out. Please learn from their experience, plan ahead and have a brilliant New Year's Eve.
Happy New Year - stay safe, and pass the message on!
This post originally featured on Debbie Bannigan's blog, Change and be happy.