The festive season is upon us, which means it’s time to reflect on another pandemic year — and raise our glasses to celebrate the joys big and small that have kept us going.
Alcohol consumption has been an important part of winter holiday celebrations for nearly thousands of years. “It has been around for a long time, and since the dawn of time there have also been people who have not been able to consume alcohol in moderation,” says Dr Anna Lembke, a psychiatrist at Stanford University and author of Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Abundance.
Lembke and other experts say most people who drink alcohol over the next few weeks, with family, at office parties, on New Year’s Eve, will be fine. But they also point out that this can be a particularly risky time of year for some alcohol users.
If you think alcohol is a problem for you, or you want to avoid over-drinking on the holidays, or you’re just not the biggest drinker, here are some strategies for navigating the holiday season. year.
Remember, holidays can be a slippery slope
Our experts generally agree that risky and potentially problematic alcohol consumption increases at this time of year, sometimes with long-term health consequences.
“During Thanksgiving, I always gave myself this excuse that it was the holidays, and I always said, ‘It’s the time of year. It’s when everyone’s drinking,'” explains Kim Kearns, a stay-at-home mom. in Massachusetts who writes about his recovery from an alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol is mixed into many holiday rituals that we love. But shorter days, colder weather and overwhelming social calendars can also make some of us more vulnerable. Or if you’re spending the holidays away from loved ones, you might be tempted to stock up on booze.
“Holidays are a time of great expectations, which can be [disappointing] when things don’t go the way we expect,” says Lembke. “And while we may love our families and friends, getting together can be stressful.
So if you’re feeling the holiday blues, remember that with the joy and warmth of the season comes an increased temptation to drink more to deal with social anxieties.
Keep track of how much you drink
To avoid falling into risky behavior, experts say it’s a good idea to watch your drinking — not just on any given night or at a single party, but over the course of each week.
According to Lembke, a safe and realistic drinking limit to keep in mind is three drinks a day and seven drinks a week for women. For men, it’s more: four glasses a day and 14 glasses a week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends even less for a healthier lifestyle: one drink or less a day and seven drinks a week for women, and two drinks a day and 14 drinks a week for men. All of this, of course, varies for each person.
“Quantity and frequency matter,” says Lembke. “We measure a standard drink either as a 12 oz. [beer]a 5 ounce glass of wine or 1 to 1 ½ ounces of hard liquor.”
Many people NPR heard from also suggested that a friend, partner, or spouse help track drinking behavior.
And remember, drinking even less alcohol, or abstaining completely, is widely considered the healthier option.
Be prepared to withstand the pressure to drink
Another challenge experts say we should be prepared for is constant nudges from loved ones to keep drinking beyond our health limits.
“I felt a huge fear of the social scene and all my friends,” says Kim Kearns, who has given up alcohol completely.
Dr. Tyler Oesterle, who is the medical director of the Mayo Clinic’s Fountain Center, says this unresolved pressure to drink can lead to awkward conversations and even conflict between loved ones.
One strategy offered by Oesterle is to have a scripted response in mind. “So when your favorite aunt offers you a glass of wine and you’ve decided not to have wine that night, [you] have something prepared [to say].”
Your answer can be as simple as “No thanks. I’m not drinking tonight.” Or: “I’m fine. I’ve been drinking too much lately.”
Or: If you want to avoid the “Where’s your drink?” question altogether, you can also pack a cup of a non-alcoholic beverage like club soda, seltzer or even water.
You can always unsubscribe
Saying “no” to loved ones and staying home over the holidays isn’t easy, but experts say another important strategy for healthy drinking – especially for those who prefer abstinence – is don’t go to this party at all.
“Keeping yourself in a safe place is the priority,” says David Dorschu, who runs Recovery Centers of America, a drug treatment program in New Jersey.
You can instead make plans that don’t involve alcohol, like watching a movie or having coffee with a friend, if being social still sounds appealing.
Kim Kearns says she entered this year’s holiday season with a plan that includes stepping away from gatherings when they get overwhelming. “I go for walks. I write. I take breaks for myself to do the things that help me relax.”
Remember that you don’t owe anyone a drink and that you can refuse this invitation and take some time for yourself.
Support those who want to drink less
Even if you’re not struggling with alcohol, you can support those who want to drink less or those who don’t drink in your life this season.
When it comes to the holiday season, make sure drinking is a choice, not an obligation. Try to make everyone feel welcome, even if they just drink a little or abstain completely.
“Whether it’s a company party or a family reception, you need to have options for people [to drink] who aren’t alcoholic, that’s number one,” Dorschu says. “Number two, you create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable refusing and saying, ‘No thanks.’
Oesterle says it helps hosts let go of hospitality gestures – Can I buy you a drink? Fancy another beer? – that once seemed warm and inviting, but can tempt customers into having an unwanted drink.
There can even be a fun side to cutting down on alcohol during the holidays — Lembke says some hosts offer fancy party drinks that aren’t alcoholic.
“It’s something to look forward to,” she said. “They want to find ways to reward themselves and celebrate without drinking alcohol.”
A version of this story originally aired on All things considered from NPR.
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