WORK HARD, PLAY HARD is the motto many Hong Kong professionals live by. But is it all it's cracked up to be? Nursing the mother of all hangovers after an indulgent weekend isn't much fun on a Monday, and it's not an unfamiliar malady on weekdays during the festive season. Despite the fact that most people know the price of too much booze, we may not always know what's too much - or how to best deal with the after-effects. According to Hong Kong government guidelines, the daily alcohol limit for men is three to four units, and, for women, two to three units. One unit is equal to eight grams of pure alcohol or, in pub speak, about half a pint of ordinary strength lager, beer or cider. Some lagers and pilsners such as Stella Artois are often stronger, and contain around three units per pint. Wine is nearer 12 per cent alcohol, making a glass of wine closer to two units rather than one. And don't be sucked in by the 'one glass of wine a day prevents disease' reports, says Ben Cheung, founder and senior medical officer of Kwai Chung Hospital's Alcohol and Substance Abuse Clinic. These findings aren't medically supported and are more likely to be the wine industry's attempt to cash in, he says. Male drinkers can safely consume up to 21 units a week and still be considered a 'social drinker', but more than 50 units of alcohol per week and you're classified as a 'risky drinker', says Cheung. For women, up to 14 units is considered social drinking, but more than 35 units per week and your internal organs are at harm. Saving alcohol units for a weekend binge isn't a good idea. It puts your body into shock, strains your liver and affects your judgment, eyesight and balance. But we don't have to cut out alcohol completely. Australian-based naturopath David Stelfox suggests sensible guidelines that will lessen that dreaded hangover. Eating a solid, healthy meal before drinking will lessen the impact of alcohol. 'Drink plenty of water before and during the period of alcohol consumption,' says Stelfox. 'Don't mix drinks. Clear alcohols appear to be more readily processed by the body than coloured or dark alcohols, which contribute to hangover symptoms. Carbonated alcohol [such as champagne] is absorbed much more quickly and will cause intoxication more quickly.' And if you're drinking over a whole weekend, remember to pace yourself. Drink plenty of other fluids, such as juices and sports drinks, eat wholesome meals, and take a liver support supplement before, during and after the weekend. But alcohol isn't the only weekend hazard. There's social smoking, too. Toxic ingredients - such as auto exhaust poison, paint solvent, embalming fluid and toilet disinfectant - hasn't deterred the 1.3 billion smokers worldwide (876,000 in Hong Kong alone) from lighting up. By the end of this year, 4.9 million people globally will die from tobacco use. Still feel like a fag? Sucking on menthol or low tar cigarettes won't buy you extra time as 15-a-day cigarette smoker Angelica Sedaris discovered. 'I'd been smoking for years and wanted to cut back, as I was trying to become pregnant,' says the Hong Kong-based 33-year-old homemaker. 'I knew I couldn't go cold turkey so I started smoking lights and found that, instead of reducing the number of smokes I had, I started smoking more.' Wan Wai-yee, executive director of the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, warns that smoking just one cigarette has an immediate impact on the body. 'The effects caused by smoking are not determined by the number of occasions a person smokes, but are directly proportional to the number of cigarettes consumed,' says Wan. Gill Stannard, an Australian-based naturopath and lecturer, says non-smokers in a room full of smoke should keep re-hydrating and get some fresh air where possible. 'Gargle with one teaspoon of salt in warm water and have some good old-fashioned lemon and honey drinks,' she suggests if you have a sore throat the next day from the smoke. Dining at one of Hong Kong's 860 smoke-free restaurants is also a smart option. And while you're in the restaurant avoid another hazard: pigging out. Whatever your favourite weekend junk food, Liang Lijun, a dietitian at Beijing's United Family Hospital, says eating it once in a while won't have a devastating effect on the hips (or heart), 'as long as fresh fruit and vegetables form the majority of your diet'. If it's the other way round and alcohol is thrown in to the mix, you could have a problem, says Stelfox. 'Hangover foods put an even greater burden on the liver, which is already struggling to metabolise the alcohol,' he says. 'The short-term effect of eating these foods is that the person will temporarily feel better because the food is providing a source of energy.' In reality, hamburgers and other 'comfort' foods that often follow a big night out don't provide a good source of the nutrients the body needs. Stelfox advises swapping the oily fry-up for fresh fruit and cereal. Dry toast (no butter) with a slick of Vegemite or Marmite provides carbohydrates, minerals and B vitamins, which are essential for assisting the body to break down the alcohol. 'They are also the nutrients that are depleted as a result of alcohol intoxication,' he says. Then there's the weekend hazard of insufficient sleep. For 47-year-old businessman Gregory Edens, entertaining clients is all part of the job. 'I have some very late nights during the week and on the weekend, I always play up a bit as a way to relax, so most of Sunday is spent sleeping,' he says. Delwyn Bartlett, director of the Australasian Sleep Association, says the effects of a weekend of partying and scattered sleep causes havoc to the system. 'The effect on the body is like jet lag; you might as well have flown across the world,' she says. Walking around in a zombie-like state, memory loss, headaches and nausea are all signs of not getting enough rest. Factor in a wild weekend of drinking and smoking, and it's no wonder so many partygoers spend most of Sunday in bed. 'There are a lot of myths surrounding sleep, like going to bed early after a late one the night before,' she says. 'This isn't true: getting-up time is more important as the body needs to reset itself ready for the week ahead.' Make Friday night the late night out instead of Saturday, allowing the body more time to replenish and recover over the weekend, suggests Bartlett. If Saturday night is a late one, all's not lost - but think again about sleeping in until the early afternoon. 'Be sure to rise early on Sunday morning - around 8.30 - no matter what time you came home,' says Bartlett. Go for a walk, get some sunlight and drink lots of water. Keeping awake and active is the key, and for good reason: there isn't enough sleep debt built up, which explains all the tossing and turning, and difficulty falling asleep on Sunday night. Finally, the weekend hazard that clearly should be avoided is drug-taking. Cheung says while there are many recreational drugs, most have similar effects and should be avoided altogether. 'Each substance gives a state of high and an altered state of mind as the neurotransmitters in the brain are being stimulated,' he says. Drugs affect most organs, including the heart, kidneys and liver as well as the brain. Cheung says the short-term effects of drug-taking are reversible, but frequent users have depleted neurotransmitters from stimulating the nerve endings repeatedly, leading to memory problems, brain function and psychosis. Smoking the odd joint is often seen as harmless, but it's still as risky as other drugs. Pot is highly addictive and the smoke contains the same chemicals as tobacco smoke. Regular use could result in cancer, as smoke is held in the lungs at length. Clearly, some weekend hazards can be managed if they don't rear their heads every Saturday and Sunday. But maybe opting for a relaxing massage on a Friday night could be a healthier and safer alternative if you're looking to wind down.