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Alcohol Abuse Prevention for the Holidays and Dry January 

The holiday season can be a time for making memories and celebrating with those you love. It can also be a time of poor decision-making and adverse health effects due to alcohol overindulgence. 

Binge drinking has potential legal consequences and can also be detrimental to your health and safety. By understanding the reasons and risks for binge drinking, you can take steps to consume alcohol safely during the holidays and beyond. You might also consider observing Dry January to start your new year. 

Binge Drinking During the Holidays 

It can be difficult not to drink when family members visit and friends gather at parties. With all the Christmas lights, music, food, and gifts, it seems like everyone is feeling festive. However, it can also be a time for drinking to excess. With New Year’s resolutions around the corner, what can a little overindulgence hurt, right? 

Unfortunately, some of the highest rates of binge drinking occur during the holiday season, which includes Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Day. This is when drinking can get out of control and become a public health problem. 

While some people drink during the holidays to celebrate, others have less festive reasons for doing so. This time of year can be lonely, depressing, or stressful for many individuals. Office parties and house guests can add anxiety, as can the pressure to buy gifts when cash is in short supply. Under these circumstances, self-medicating with alcohol might seem like a way to cope, even for people who are otherwise moderate to light drinkers. 

Safety and Health Risks of Binge Drinking 

Excessive drinking can put you at risk. Accidents will likely increase with more cars on the road and inclement weather during the holidays. People who binge drink are at least 70 times more likely to end up in the emergency room than individuals who do not. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), other immediate risks of binge drinking include: 

  • Alcohol poisoning 
  • Unsafe sex 
  • Violence such as homicide and intimate partner sexual assault 

Over time, binge drinking can have long-term effects, including certain chronic conditions. The CDC also reports the following long-term risks: 

  • Certain types of cancer, including breast, colon, esophagus, liver, mouth, rectum, and throat 
  • Cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke 
  • Cognitive problems, including memory decline and dementia 
  • Digestive problems 
  • Employment problems and unemployment 
  • Liver disease 
  • Social and family problems 
  • Weakened immune system 

Tips for Safe Alcohol Consumption 

A healthy relationship with alcohol involves knowing the difference between moderate and excessive consumption. Moderate use means no more than two drinks per day for men and one for women. One alcoholic drink is 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or a 1.5-ounce shot of hard liquor. 

According to the CDC, excessive drinking includes binge and heavy drinking: 

  • Binge drinking: per occasion, five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women 
  • Heavy drinking: per week, 15 or more drinks for men and eight or more drinks for women 

Whether you are alone or celebrating with others, you can do several things to enjoy alcohol in moderation: 

  • Eat food before drinking to decrease the absorption rate of alcohol in your bloodstream. 
  • Make every other beverage a non-alcoholic one, like water. 
  • Pace yourself with no more than one alcoholic beverage per hour. 
  • Slow down your consumption by sipping drinks. 
  • If you are going to be away from home, make plans ahead of time to get back safely. 
  • If you are hosting a party where there is alcohol, you can do the following to keep your guests safe: 
  • Do not serve alcohol to anyone who is intoxicated. 
  • Provide plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks. 
  • Stop serving alcohol about one hour before you plan to end the party. 
  • Do not let a guest drive home drunk. 

Dry January 

If you believe in New Year's resolutions, consider observing Dry January. This resolution can be an excellent follow-up to a holiday or overindulgent drinking. Maybe you did not drink much during the holiday season but want a fresh start to the new year. 

Dry January began in 2012 in the United Kingdom as a public health campaign encouraging people to examine their alcohol consumption. The goal is to join millions of people worldwide in abstaining from drinking any alcoholic beverage for the entire month of January. 

One month of no drinking might not seem like a significant change, but you will likely experience changes in your health. If you regularly drink but go sober for 30 days, you can improve your sleep, gain more energy, and even drop a few pounds. You might even notice a change in your cholesterol levels and blood pressure. 

If a month of no drinking seems challenging for you, the following strategies can help you stick to your goal: 

  • Find a non-alcoholic substitute. If you usually pop open a beer after work, find a non-alcoholic beverage you can look forward to. 
  • Lean on others for support. Consider starting a Dry January support group with friends or co-workers. 
  • Remove temptations. Do not keep alcohol at home, and avoid bars and other places serving alcohol. 
  • Stay the course. Even if you give in to one drink, do not see it as a failure. Just start the next day again. 

If you have engaged in heavy drinking before Dry January, you might experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, anxiety, sweating, or insomnia. More severe symptoms include: 

  • Delirium 
  • Fever 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Racing heart 

If you think you might have a problem with alcohol or are experiencing severe withdrawal, it is essential to seek professional help. 

Research and materials for this article were compiled, written, and distributed on behalf of the National Public Health Information Coalition. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the various authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Public Health Information Coalition or its members.