The holidays are a time to celebrate with friends, family and loved ones. They have also become a time to consume alcohol. People drink a few pints on St. Patrick’s Day, tequila shots on Cinco de Mayo (tequila sales double on that day1), hard cider for Halloween and champagne on New Year’s Eve. Many do so without problem. Others simply cannot. If you struggle with alcohol, holidays can be triggering and stressful. Luckily you can get the skills and tools you need to find recovery and stay sober at even the most challenging times of year.
Holiday Drinking Risks
Death rates related to alcohol consumption increase around the holidays. Drinkers may overdose on alcohol or a combination of alcohol and other substances. Excessive and binge alcohol use also puts a terrific strain on the heart. High blood alcohol levels increase the risk of irregular heartbeat, heart attack, and stroke.4 Alcohol also contains compounds called phenols and polyphenols. These can slow the breakdown of adrenaline and other hormones in the body. Holiday excitement or stress already leads to high levels of adrenaline. If the body can’t process adrenaline at a healthy pace, it can accumulate and over stress the heart.
Holiday Drinking and Accidents
Two to three times as many people die on Christmas and New Year’s in alcohol-related accidents than during comparable periods throughout the rest of the year.
Alcohol-related traffic fatalities rise significantly during the holidays. The Wall Street Journal reports that during certain holidays alcohol-related driving deaths can cause up to 50 to 59 percent of all traffic deaths.5 The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that two to three times as many people die on Christmas and New Year’s in alcohol-related accidents than during comparable periods throughout the rest of the year.6 An alcohol-impaired driver is involved in 40 percent of traffic fatalities during these holidays.
Alcohol and Holidays
Alcohol is so prevalent during the holidays, it can be difficult to avoid. In 2007, the distilled-spirits industry generated over 25 percent of its profits between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.2 This is not surprising, given that research suggests that people who are actively celebrating a holiday are more likely to drink past the point of intoxication than those who are not.3
In fact, holidays and celebrations throughout the year — from Super Bowl Sunday to St. Patrick’s Day to Cinco de Mayo, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve — all seem inextricably tied to the consumption of alcohol.
So why do people drink on the holidays? Many people have holidays off from work. They may begin to “celebrate” early. They may drink with coworkers, friends and family. They may drink in response to increased family stress or as a way to catch up with old friends who are back in town for a holiday. Holidays are a special time of year. They seem to call for celebration, indulgence and special treats. Holiday traditions like toasts create social pressure to drink. Social pressure can also come from work parties, friends and family. Alcohol is often given as a gift, and hosts offer guests a selection of alcohol beverages at most parties. A lack of social contact can also lead to drinking. People without close friends or family may drink in response to feelings of loneliness or loss. There are many reasons you may be tempted to pick up a drink, or a few extra drinks, during the holiday season.
How Do I Stay Safe?
For those who can drink responsibly, here are a few tips for staying safe during the holiday drinking season:
- Drink on a full stomach. Alcohol will absorb into your bloodstream more slowly if you’ve eaten before you drink.
- Decide beforehand how much you’re going to drink. Pick the number of drinks you want, or decide not to drink, before you begin drinking. Stick to this number. Enlist the help of a friend or family member if it will be a challenge for you to stop.
- Know what you’re drinking. Know what, and how much, alcohol is in any mixed beverage you consume.
- Pace yourself. Have no more than one drink per hour. A standard drink amounts to about 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. Alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
- Have a plan to get home safely. Look up public transit routes, have the Uber app on your phone or ask a non-drinking friend to take you home. Have a backup plan in case the first plan doesn’t work out.
You don’t ever “have to” drink. If you choose to do so, you can take these and other steps to keep yourself safe.
How Do I Stay Sober?
If you’d rather not drink or know you have a problem with alcohol, you can stay sober but still enjoy the holidays. Try these tips to help get through the season sober:
- Find a non-alcoholic beverage. Bring some with you if you’re not sure if a non-alcoholic option will be available. This gives you something to drink and an easy reason to reject offers of other, alcoholic, beverages.
- Prepare a reason for why you aren’t drinking. You can give as many or as few details as you like.
- Find allies. Ask a sober friend, a trusted family member or a peer in recovery to come with you to an event. Have someone you can call if the pressure to drink feels overwhelming.
- Ask for ingredients. Alcohol appears in surprising places during the holidays. Before you accidentally eat liquor-infused desserts or have an alcoholic glass of punch, ask what’s in it.
- Be choosy about which events you attend. You don’t have to go to every event you’re invited to. Choose the ones you’ll enjoy and the ones where you won’t be encouraged to drink.
- Take care of yourself. Eat well, get enough sleep, attend therapy and support group meetings and otherwise keep yourself healthy and composed. You’ll be happier and find you’re better able to say no when you need to.
You can have a safe and sober holiday. You can enjoy your time with friends and family and create new, non-alcohol based traditions.
Your Sober Holiday
If you’re ready to start experiencing holidays, and life, without alcohol, give us a call. We are here for you any time at 269-280-4673. We can help you find the care you or a loved one needs to start a sober life. We can offer support during the holidays and other stressful times. Have a safe and sober holiday season. Reach out today.
1 “Tequila Sales Double on Cinco de Mayo.” Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. 30 Apr. 2013. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.
2 “Department of Health Encourages Vermonters to Enjoy a Sober Holiday.” Vermont Department of Health. 26 Dec. 2007. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.
3 Glindemann, K.E., et al. “Celebratory Drinking and Intoxication: A Contextual Influence on Alcohol Consumption.” Environment and Behavior. 1 May 2007. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.
4 “Alcohol and Heart Health.” American Heart Association. 12 Jan. 2015. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.
5 “Alcohol-Related Fatalities Around the Holidays.” The Wall Street Journal. 23 Nov. 2011. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.
6 “New Year, Old Myths, New Fatalities: Alcohol-Related Traffic Deaths Jump During Christmas and New Year’s.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Dec. 2016. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.