5 Ways to Keep Your Drinking in Check Over the Holidays

6 min read
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Holiday traditions

Source: Inga Seliverstova / Pexels

The holidays are here and, for many people, that means gifts, togetherness, and making magic for the little ones in the family. But, for many others, the holidays are a stressful time where heavy drinking is the number-one tradition. Staying on track can be especially difficult this time of year, whether your goal is to drink less or to abstain altogether. Here are five tips to help you keep it together throughout the holidays.

1. Have a Plan

Perhaps the most important strategy to remember is having a strategy in the first place. Setting limits or having a goal is a great place to start. Figure out what your ideal number of drinks will be and stick to it.

A couple of things to keep in mind as you plan this out: Five or more drinks on any given day is considered “binge drinking” and can put you at risk of various problems. That said, if you typically drink eight, 10, or more drinks per day, then five would be a great goal. The important thing here is that it is specific and measurable.

Also, be sure to keep in mind that “one drink” is an actual unit: It includes 5 oz of wine, 12 oz of 5 percent abv beer, or 1.5 oz of 80-proof spirits. Measure your drinks and keep track as you go through the day.

For many people, simply abstaining from alcohol is far easier than stopping once you start. If your plan is not drinking, let your friend, partner, or loved one know ahead of time, so that they can support you, and have a plan for getting out of there if you feel uncomfortable or just want to leave.

2. Pace and Space

As you move through your day, be sure to eat food and drink water between each alcoholic drink. This is called “pacing and spacing,” and is a great way to moderate your alcohol consumption. The general advice is to have one glass of water after each drink or have something to eat before or after each drink.

Drinking on an empty stomach can enhance alcohol’s effects, leading to a stronger buzz. Typically, this is where people get themselves into trouble: They get the buzz and it feels good, so they continue drinking in an effort to continue the buzz. Don’t worry, eating food won’t kill the buzz altogether. What it does, though, is help you stay in control and keep your drinking in line with where you want it. People tend to get in trouble with their drinking when they take their eyes off the ball. Pacing and spacing will help keep your drinking intentional.

For those nondrinkers, or people in early recovery who are struggling to make it through the day, allowing yourself an extra cookie or plate of food is absolutely allowed here!

3. Start Later

One of the more straightforward ways of sticking with your drinking goal is simply to wait before having your first drink. If you start drinking at 2 p.m., chances are you will blow past your goal by sunset. However, if you wait until 6 or 7 p.m. to have your first drink, sticking to your goal of three will become far more achievable.

In some cases, this might require arriving later than your parents, in-laws, or hosts would like you to arrive. But, trust me: Being fashionably late is far less problematic than being the guy who drank too much on Christmas Eve.

4. Use Your Supports

Going into the holidays with a plan is likely going to mean talking with the people in your life who support you and want you to succeed. This might mean your spouse or partner, your friend or confidante, or your therapist or counselor. Whomever it is, consider the following questions: What do you want the day/night/weekend/week to look like? How will you know you’ve been successful? How would you know things aren’t going well? What should you do if you feel uncomfortable and need to leave early?

Having a plan in place with your support person will help ensure you don’t need to have difficult conversations in the middle of a crowd. We often recommend having a sign or a signal in mind to alert your loved one that you need to leave: a wink of the eye, a touch to your nose, or whatever you decide.

5. Know How to Say “No”

The final tip is knowing ahead of time how to decline offers from (usually) well-intentioned friends and family. Not everyone is ready to scream from the rooftops, “I am a person in recovery from addiction!” No worries—you don’t have to be. But when someone offers a drink that you do not want to accept, saying something like, “No, thanks; I am taking a break” or “No, thanks; I’m not drinking today” can be an easy and simple way to shut things down. The important thing here is to be firm, but polite, and not leave the door open to additional offers.

More people than ever are “sober curious,” and the stigma associated with not drinking has lessened over the last several years. My clients are usually surprised to find out that declining a drink does not usually lead to an inquisition or deep conversation about “Why you aren’t drinking like you used to.” Instead, people tend to be far more focused on their own drinking than on anyone else’s. “Taking a break? I’ve been meaning to do that myself,” or something of the sort is far more common.

Happy Holidays

I hope these common-sense tips and tricks can help you make the most of your holidays this year. It can be a tough time for people in early recovery, so if you have loved ones who identify as people in recovery, be sure to have plenty of nonalcoholic options available for them. Again, what’s important here is shifting your drinking from a behavior that is unconscious and automatic to one that is intentional and thoughtful. By doing so, you can avoid problems and help ensure that the events go smoothly. If you make attempts to cut back or quit and find it hard to do or are concerned about your drinking or drug use, there are lots of resources available and people who would be happy to support you through this time.

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