By: Christopher Schmoutz, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Neuroscience

Christopher Schmoutz, PhD

Christopher Schmoutz, PhD

For many of us, the holiday season is a festive and celebratory time, meant to drive away the shorter days of cold winter darkness and enjoy the camaraderie of friends and family. Whether it’s the inviting aromas of favorite festive foods, or the gifts and excitement shared amongst children, the holiday season calls on us to count our blessings and share that abundance with kith and kin. Oftentimes, this season is about “more”: more food, more booze, more parties, more gifts.

Oftentimes, the holiday season is also associated with stressful situations: hunting for the perfect present and fretting that the packages will arrive in time; planning, shopping, and cooking a feast for friends and families; navigating the sometimes fraught social and familial expectations; travel plans interrupted by stormy weather and icy roads; or the grief of spending holidays without our recently departed loved ones. Along with the overindulgence of all good things, these stressful situations can contribute to increased alcohol consumption and problems related to drinking.

Whether it is toasting with champagne on New Year’s Eve, imbibing at the open bar during a holiday party, or mixing the eggnog with brandy, the opportunities for overindulging in alcohol are numerous, and oftentimes, fully accepted or encouraged by our social circles. For all of us, this may be a fraught time of increased stress and expectations, and during celebrations, people may drink far more than usual.

With the increased stressful situations surrounding social gatherings and holiday celebrations, we all need to take stock of our psychological well-being. Oftentimes, problematic drinking may be exacerbated by feelings of sadness, loneliness, or simply feeling tired, hungry or angry. Knowing how these mental states affect your mood and motivation may require a little introspection, however, identifying these psychological triggers may help to reduce problematic drinking behaviors. If you are looking to avoid problems related to alcohol, here are a few tips and strategies to curb overindulgence in holiday drinking.

If you or a loved one are prone to problematic drinking, devising a plan to avoid stressful triggers may greatly curb alcohol consumption. With a little anticipation and forethought, many holiday celebrations may be enjoyed without problematic consumption of alcohol. Before the festivities, create a plan and stick with it by trying to anticipate the expectations of the celebratory environment. If you do plan to drink alcohol, set a reasonable limit (1-3 drinks per day) to avoid problematic drinking. One simple way to limit alcohol intake is to alternate between alcoholic and nonalcoholic options throughout the night: after finishing a beer, drink a full glass of water before opening the next beer. Ask the host of the party if nonalcoholic drinks will be available, or if food and desserts will contain alcohol. If so, it can be wise to bring your own soda, sparkling water, or other nonalcoholic options. Invite an accountability buddy to any celebration where you are worried that you will overindulge. Let them know your plan, and ask them to help you stick to it. Prepare an exit strategy for when you feel overwhelmed at a party; this may include calling a sober friend or a taxi or ride-share service.

Finally, if you think your holiday drinking could be a sign of a year-round issue, please discuss it with your medical or behavioral healthcare provider. Many options are available for addressing problematic drinking behaviors, including the free support and help of Alcoholics Anonymous. Virtual AA meetings are also available. For more information, visit: