Alcohol and the Holidays

When it comes to celebrations, particularly during the holidays, perceptions of hospitality and alcohol usually go hand in hand. Alcohol is so frequently associated with social events that people are surprised when alcohol is not present at a gathering.

But what if you choose not to drink?

Either due to health reasons, volunteering to be a designated driver, just don’t feel like it, or because of a history of addiction.

Sometimes the social setting itself and/or the people in it can cause someone who chooses not to drink to feel pressured to do so. Most people have experienced the awkward moment when you politely refuse an alcoholic drink from either a guest or the host and are made to feel guilty about your decision. The message can often be subtle, but it is very clearly communicated that somehow you violated group norms by not drinking in a social situation.

It is likely that people who treat non-drinkers in this manner are unaware of the impact their comments and behaviors have on others. They more often than not want to be sure that their guests are having a good time, and often associate fun with everyone having a drink in their hand. They may also be a few drinks in themselves and aren’t thinking logically about why you may be refusing.

It’s important to remember that just because someone offers you a drink doesn’t mean you have to drink it. It’s not rude to respectfully refuse an alcoholic drink and choose an alternative. Sometimes a host may be trying to keep their guests entertained, but your contribution can be as simple as reassuring the host that you are having a good time, even if you’re not drinking.

If you’re worried that non-alcoholic beverages will not be at a gathering, bring your own that you can share with the group. There are plenty of mixers like soda, tonic water, sparkling water, juice, etc. that you and others can enjoy. There may even be someone in the same boat as you who is trying to cut down on alcohol use or maintain sobriety but feels uncomfortable about not drinking at a gathering. This is a perfect way to model good behavior for someone who may be struggling.

Some people are very understanding of another person’s personal choices, but unfortunately there are others who are not. It is a good idea to have a planned response if someone ends up pressuring you to drink. Some very reasonable responses that don’t require an explanation are things like, “I’m the designated driver tonight,” or “I don’t feel like one right now,” or “I have to work early tomorrow” or “I’m getting back in shape.”

Curiosity is a normal human trait and it’s important to be prepared for intrusive people who may want to know exactly why you’re not drinking. If you’re a woman people may ask if you’re pregnant, and if you’re a man you may be asked why you’re not drinking “like all the other guys.” Just remember that your reasons for choosing not to drink do not need to be justified to someone else. In other words, it’s nobody’s business why you choose not to drink. If you feel comfortable sharing your reasons for not drinking, then by all means, but if someone asks you are not obligated to provide them with an explanation.

If even after you stand your ground and people are still trying to pester you to drink, you can always leave. If people are unable to respect your decisions perhaps you should evaluate whether they are the types of people you want to keep in your life.

Alcohol and Accidents

It is no secret that alcohol and accidents often go hand in hand.

The legal limit for blood alcohol concentration nationwide is 0.08 g/dL. However, even if your blood alcohol level is under the legal limit, this does not mean that you are safe to drive.

Binge drinking which is defined as 4 or more drinks for women or 5 or more drinks for men in one sitting often exceeds 0.08 g/dL. The average adult drinks about 8 drinks per binge which can lead to severe consequences. Bingeing can lead to alcohol poisoning, symptoms of which include: vomiting, slowed or irregular breathing, seizures, loss of consciousness, hypothermia, and in the worst case scenario death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control six people die every day from alcohol poisoning. The majority of people who die are Caucasian men. The number of deaths per million people varies by state, Alaska has the most alcohol poisoning deaths per million people and Alabama has the least. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence estimates that 100,000 people die every year as a result of drinking and driving or other accidents like: falls, fires, suicides, and homicides related to alcohol consumption.

The holiday season is one of the most dangerous times of the year for alcohol-related accidents and deaths. More people are consuming alcohol during this time of year, even people who don’t regularly drink. Those who binge drink only during major holidays have a much lower alcohol tolerance and often drive when they shouldn’t. During the holidays people who struggle with alcohol dependence are often able to drink more freely with others given that the holidays are a much more socially acceptable time for people to consume alcohol. Although people with alcohol dependence have a higher tolerance for alcohol, they don’t show signs of intoxication as easily as non-drinkers and they are more likely to drive while under the influence. Winter conditions also create hazards when driving. Rain, ice, fog, and snow make roads treacherous but when you take into account holiday stress and people rushing to get everything done on time, and then throw alcohol into the mix it is not too difficult to understand why the alcohol related death statistics during the holiday season is so staggering.

Alcohol sales also help explain this trend. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States reported that 25% of the yearly distilled spirit industry profits ($49-billion-a-year) are made between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Trends show that sales spike on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve which coincides with increased alcohol consumption.

Tips for a Safer Holiday Celebration

  • Know your limits. Many people think that one drink is equivalent to one glass, when in reality one glass could actually account for well over that. A drink is defined as 1.5 ounces distilled spirits, 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer. If you’ve never measured your alcohol consumption give it a try, it adds up much faster than you think.
  • Never pressure anyone to drink. Respect the choices of people who choose not to drink alcohol. They probably have very good reasons as to why they make that choice and are not obligated to provide an explanation.
  • Bring or offer non-alcoholic beverages. This way guests have alternatives readily available to them.
  • Last call. In the same way bars offer a last call before they close, as a host you can do the same. Stop serving alcohol at least an hour before the event ends and offer people non-alcoholic options instead. Even if it’s before “last call,” If a guest is intoxicated stop serving them alcohol
  • Don’t let anyone drive drunk. In this day and age it is so easy to call a cab or use a ride-share app to get home. It’s not worth it to try to drive home intoxicated to save a couple bucks. The potential consequences are not worth the risk.

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