Making merry during the holidays, for some, involves drinking alcoholic beverages. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, many people are able to enjoy alcohol responsibly; others, unfortunately, can’t seem to resist drinking to excess. The festivities can trigger more serious drinking behaviors in those with a history of alcoholism. However, you don’t need to live with a diagnosed addiction to abuse alcohol during the holidays. Even if you normally drink at moderate levels, you may find yourself consuming enough to cause problems if you’re not careful.
Holiday Alcohol Triggers
There are several things that can make you vulnerable to over-indulging with alcohol during the holidays. Following are three frequent triggers:
The environment: The holiday season is packed with festivities that include alcoholic beverages: workplace parties, get-togethers with family and friends, holiday brunches and dinners, and traditions such as toasting the New Year with a glass of champagne. For some, drinking isn’t just confined to the evening; you might be tempted to continue celebrating in the morning hours by adding Irish cream-flavored liquor to your coffee or mixing vodka with your glass of orange juice.
Nostalgia: Memories of a pleasant Christmas past can generate feelings of guilt or sadness when this year’s holiday seems less-than-merry. It can be especially tough for those who are emotionally or physically removed from family and friends. Watching others celebrate with loved ones, from the neighbor’s big family party to the endless barrage of happy TV-commercial families, may lead to increased alcohol abuse in people with alcoholism as well as those who are typically moderate drinkers.
Stress: It’s common for holiday hustle and bustle to produce anxiety and pressure. An American Psychological Association (APA) study found that 44% of women and 31% of men reported increased stress over the holidays . Relationships are one source of that strain. Normally far-flung family members may suddenly find themselves shoehorned into strained family dinners. Cultural influences and perceptions of what we “should” do, trigger anxiety as well. For example, this year’s Elf on the Shelf craze can easily cause an already-tired parent to feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of setting up creative, Facebook-brag-worthy scenarios each night.
Consequences of Holiday Alcohol Abuse
The physical consequences of alcohol abuse can range from inconvenient to life-threatening. Those who drink too much are at higher risk for conditions like liver disease, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Alcohol abuse may also produce a condition called “holiday heart,” which is an irregular heartbeat in a normally healthy person who has started drinking heavily over a vacation or holiday. Indulgence can be measured in injury as well. One study estimated that up to 20% of falls in working-aged people may be linked to alcohol use .
An excessive drinker doesn’t just do harm to their own physical well-being; harming others is a real possibility. About 40% of fatal car accidents over Christmas and New Year’s involve at least one alcohol-impaired driver . Alcohol abuse is also a leading factor in violence against a significant other.
The emotional fallout from excessive drinking has an effect that can last far beyond the holiday season. Alcohol abuse isn’t a “you” problem; it’s a family problem. Alcohol-fueled arguments over why the Christmas lights aren’t working or who is sober enough to drive home can splinter relationships with those you love the most.
The financial toll is high as well. For instance, if you’re convicted of driving while intoxicated, expect to pay a significant fine or, for a repeat offender, endure jail time. Other bills associated with alcohol abuse include court fees, increased car insurance premiums, and lost wages. Drivers who lose their license can also expect to pay for transportation to school or work.
How to Get Help
If you know you’re vulnerable to alcohol abuse, it’s important to get help. Following are some tips to help you get the help you need:
- Recognize the problem. If alcohol abuse is causing problems with your relationships or ability to work and carry out responsibilities, seek help from a qualified addiction counselor. These professionals will develop a treatment plan that may include in- or out-patient treatment, support groups, and individual counseling.
- Get help from a therapist. If holiday anxiety, depression, or other negative feelings trigger your drinking, seek help from a professional therapist. He or she will use talk therapy to help you identify and change negative thoughts and feelings. A mental health professional will also assess your drinking habits and, if necessary, recommend you for addiction counseling.
- Plan an “out” for holiday festivities. Sitting at home during a party doesn’t feel like much fun. Instead, arrange to do another activity during that time, such as having dinner with a non-drinking friend. If you’re in recovery for alcohol abuse or alcoholism, locate a 12-step support meeting that coincides with the party time. Giving yourself a healthy alternative will help you avoid the temptation that comes from sitting on the sofa and saying to yourself “I’m bored, so I may as well go and party.”
- Attend with a sober friend. Sometimes you’ll feel it’s necessary to attend a holiday function, such as an office party. One way to reduce the chance of excessive drinking is to attend with a friend who does not drink or one who is in sober recovery.
- Plan your own alcohol-free parties. Control festivities by organizing them yourself. This empowers you to enjoy the fellowship of the season in a sober environment. For example, instead of gathering with co-workers for happy hour, arrange to meet them for coffee at the local cafe. Rather than going to a friend’s famously indulgent Christmas party, throw an alcohol-free event of your own.
- Stay healthy. Don’t let the holidays wreck healthful habits. Skimping on exercise and sleep will raise stress levels, increasing the chance you’ll turn to alcohol to “relax.” Remember to stick to a good diet as well. You might have a large, filling salad before heading out to a holiday buffet or potluck, and decline seconds at the dessert table. Feeling good about your body and overall health will help both your self-esteem you’re your mood. It will also provide a solid foundation for staying sober amidst the constant temptations.
Don’t wait until New Year’s Day to make a resolution to cut back on alcohol. Don’t wait until excessive drinking causes a relationship to break down. Don’t wait until you hurt someone else in an alcohol-related accident. It doesn’t matter if you only over-indulge over the holidays or are already struggling with an alcohol abuse problem; if excessive consumption is causing problems in your life, please seek help now.