The holiday season has arrived, and with it, plenty of occasions to gather with friends and family over a good meal and a few drinks. With so much opportunity to share a glass or three of holiday cheer—a champagne toast, wine with dinner, after-dinner liqueur—how can you make sure you don’t get too carried away with the holiday spirits? If you are trying to cut down on your drinking, the triggering effects of such a festive time of year may be particularly concerning. Here are a few strategies for curtailing your indulgence in this season of abundance.

 

Think before you drink

As you consider attending that cocktail party or accepting that dinner invitation, also set some mindful intentions around your involvement in any celebration. Set goals. Create clear expectations and limitations for yourself for low-risk drinking behaviors. Decide what days you will not drink, how many days a week you will drink, and how many drinks you will have on those days.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), low-risk drinking for men is no more than four drinks in one day, and no more than 14 drinks in a week. For women, it’s no more than three drinks on any day, and no more than seven drinks in a week.

 

Just say “no”

As you cruise the party circuit, you may be offered a drink on a day you’ve committed to not drinking, or at a time when you’ve already reached your limit or simply don’t want one. Have a polite, convincing “No, thanks” at the ready. Respond to these offers quickly and without hesitation, and you will be less likely to give in or to think of excuses to accept one after all. You might also review this short module to help you build drink refusal skills.

 

Know what’s in your glass

At any festivity, if you accept a drink, know exactly what you’re sipping from your glass.

Be conscious of content. The amount of alcohol in a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, or a mixed drink can vary quite a bit. If you want to drink less, choose wines, beers, or cocktails with lower alcohol percentages when possible. Check out these lists of wine types from low to high alcohol by volume (ABV), top-rated low-alcohol beers, and recommendations for low-alcohol cocktails.

 

Know how much is enough

To imbibe carefully and consciously, it’s just as important to know the quantity of drinks you’re enjoying as it is the quality. Keep track of how much you drink. Find a way that will work most consistently for you: Carry a drinking tracker card in your wallet, make notations on a calendar or in your digital notes, or check out one of these top drink-counting apps. Writing down each drink before you drink it will increase your awareness and may help you slow down when needed.

 

Count and measure

Know the standard drink sizes, so you can count your drinks accurately. Away from home, it can be hard to measure or keep track, especially with mixed drinks, and at times, you may be getting more alcohol than you think. With wine, ask the host or server not to “top off” your partially filled glass.

 

Moderate the effects

Accompany your drinking with some complementary habits that will help balance the alcohol’s effects. Include food. Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Make sure to nibble and nosh while you sip and savor. Food will cause the alcohol to be absorbed into your system more slowly.

 

Pace and space

When you do drink, pace yourself. Sip slowly. Have no more than one standard drink per hour. And make sure to space your drinks, make every other drink a non-alcoholic one, such as water, soda, or juice.

 

Make other plans

If these strategies prove difficult for maintaining the goals you’ve set for yourself around drinking or you decide you don’t want to drink at all during the holidays, you may need to accept party invitations wisely or decline them altogether.

 

Avoid “triggers”

Pay attention to what triggers your urge to drink. Is it a certain group of friends? A particular atmosphere or environment? Certain activities, times of day, or feelings? If there are triggers that encourage you to drink even when you don’t want to, avoid them. Plan something else to do instead of drinking or stay home. If drinking at home is a problem, keep little or no alcohol there.

 

Handle urges

When you cannot avoid a trigger and an urge hits, remind yourself of your reasons for limiting your intake (keep a little note handy for yourself that you can reference), or talk things through with someone you trust. While it’s natural to struggle with these feelings, you can choose to accept them and process them without giving in, knowing that it will soon pass. You can also check out this short module to help you handle urges to drink.

 

The bottom line

If alcohol already plays a large social and emotional role in your life, maybe you would do better to avoid the frenzy of indulgent holiday activity and drinking that often goes along with it. Instead, give yourself the gift of new, healthy activities, hobbies, and relationships that will serve you not only during the holiday season but well into the new year and beyond.

John Mendelson, MD
Dr. John Mendelson is an addiction expert with the University of California San Francisco and Chief Medical Officer for Ria Health. He is also Professor of Medicine, UCSF; Senior Research Scientist Friends Research Institute; Medical Director, Bay Area Addiction Research and Treatment (BAART) Programs; Distinguished in Clinical Research and Primary Care Medical Practice.

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