Drinking during holidays is a relatively normal practice. Forbes magazine even listed “Ten Reasons to Drink during the Holidays,” mentioning the sociable nature of the reasons behind holidays, whether at the height of summer or the dead of winter. Old friends and family members visit, companies host holiday parties, and streets are decorated with Christmas lights, little American flags, or Halloween pumpkins. It’s hard not to celebrate, says Forbes.
There are other reasons that people drink during the holidays, and not all of them are happy. For many, holidays are a time of loneliness and stress; not everyone enjoys mingling at an office party, and having old friends and seldom-seen relatives under the same roof can lead to embarrassing situations. Financial and economic difficulty is a real problem when there is pressure to buy something to celebrate the occasion while still struggling to pay bills and rent. In this context, it’s hard not to drown sorrows in alcohol.
Given this confluence, Forbes writes that “it is hardly surprising that many people indulge in seasonal binge-drinking.” The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States notes that a quarter of the $49-billion-a-year distilled spirits industry’s profits come from the month between Thanksgiving and the New Year. So strong is the temptation to drink during holiday weekends, that even people who are moderate consumers of alcohol tend to increase their drinking rates. The study that discovered this also noted that most Americans have no idea what high-risk drinking looks like, which lulls them into a false sense of security regarding their limits.
Around the holidays, this becomes a dangerous and often deadly series of risk factors. Not only do people drink more, but there are more cars out on the road, more people driving late at night, and, during the Christmas season, in bad weather.
Drinking during the Holiday Season
After the Fourth of July, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day (spiking on Thanksgiving itself, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve) accounts for the most extreme cases of alcohol consumption.
“Alcohol consumption increases during the holidays,” notes the Statesman Journal, specifically mentioning a report issued by Alcohol Monitoring Systems that found that over 450,000 monitored DUI offenders increased their drinking rates by 33 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, even though they knew they were being monitored around the clock to test their alcohol consumption. The vice president of Alcohol Monitoring Systems said that such a spike indicated the close degree to which dangerous drinking and holidays (and the holiday season) were intertwined. While the fact that knowingly monitored drinkers drank even more than they normally did during the holidays, “you can imagine the rate of drinking for those who aren’t being monitored,” said the vice president.
From Christmas to New Year’s Day
When it comes to holidays, the period that starts before Christmas and ends on New Year’s Day accounts for some of the highest incidents of binge drinking and related public health problems. In a story sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, the Statesman Journal writes of how the Christmas season, and especially Christmas week, creates a number of opportunities for drinking to get out of control. An addiction medical specialist with Kaiser explains that overindulging during the holidays is easy. There is plenty of food, drink, and good cheer to go around, and moderation is rarely taken seriously. There is the idea that being more responsible with food and alcohol consumption in January will ameliorate any excesses during the holiday season, so people tend to eat and drink more.
To that point, US News & World Report adds that even social drinkers can face a barrage of temptations to drink more than they normally do. At house parties, office parties, and bars, alcohol is in constant flow in the buildup to Christmas and New Year’s. Champagne, for example, has always been a part of toasting the start of a new year, and it’s not limited to a single drink. An addiction psychiatrist told US News that “usually the parties start well before midnight.”
Attitudes Toward Holiday Drinking
The vice president and clinical director for a treatment center in New York noted that most adults in the United States have “rather shocking attitudes” toward holiday drinking, especially in the context of work-related parties. Employees make ill-advised sexual overtures toward their colleagues or get into screaming matches or actual physical fights – all behaviors fueled by drinking too much alcohol too quickly. Even inappropriate comments made after one too many drinks have led to termination slips, suggesting the degree to which people are unaware of their limits or to which their holiday drinking is putting them at risk.
All told, these factors contributed to there being 1,200 alcohol-related deaths during the 2015 holiday season. Between 2010 and 2014, the average death toll on January 1st was 118.2.
Recovery During The Holidays
The pressure and strain of various holiday seasons and occasions are not lost on the treatment community, so there are many assistance options for binge drinking or a problematic dependence on alcohol. Residential rehabilitation facilities tend to have more available space during the holidays, so getting into a program of choice becomes much easier. Waiting until January increases the risk of being put on a waiting list because that is when most people, burned out on seasonal celebrations, try to get into treatment.
Naturally, being in a treatment program during an important holiday has its downsides, but it also means that you will avoid all the triggers and temptations that come at the time. If you are concerned about your drinking, not being near alcohol or people who are drinking alcohol and encouraging you to drink along with them will help you enjoy a special occasion without the risk of relapse or running into a problem because you had too much to drink. Much like sober student groups on college campuses, a good treatment facility will still have a Christmas party or a Halloween celebration but with healthy alternatives to binge drinking. Supportive family members and close friends will be part of these celebrations, so you do not have to feel that you are missing out on spending a special occasion with loved ones.
Being willing to check into a program during a holiday period signals your serious intention on overcoming your drinking problem. This can bode very well as you start your new life after treatment. Commitment to a program while everyone else is out celebrating demonstrates your trustworthiness and work ethic, and this can help you as you apply for jobs and loans that will be sympathetic to your mental health history. Informed and perceptive employers and supervisors can also reach out to employees who may be struggling. Working over a holiday weekend is sometimes a necessary evil, and a boss who knows how to recognize the signs of a drinking problem in the office (maybe through the use of an Employee Assistance Program) shows a healthy investment in both their employee and making sound business decisions.
Holidays are an investment, and so is health. Binge drinking during the holidays may seem to be the trend, but there are safer, smarter ways to have fun on a special occasion without putting yourself or other people at risk.
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