Holidays without Hangovers

5 Tips for Enjoying the Holidays with Little or No Alcohol

It’s pervasive in our culture. Just spend a little time on Facebook. There’s a “Mommy Needs Vodka” group and another group devoted to “Wine Wasted Moms,” among other wine-related maternal Facebook “survival” groups. Head over to Instagram and you’ll find picture after picture of ladies toasting themselves with huge glasses of wine. Millennials are reportedly “changing the way we drink wine,” if you are to believe social media advertising. If not ladies with wineglasses, we are subjected to images of happy guys raising a beer while watching the game. When it comes to fashion you can order up a t-shirt that says, “I make beer disappear, what’s your superpower?” Or “Designated Drunk” or “Wine is like Duct Tape, It Fixes Everything“.

I have a sense of humor. It seems, though, like alcohol consumption today is commonly viewed as a normal, and even necessary, part of social interaction. A reward for hard work. A way to manage stress. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily advocating total abstinence, but the increasing normalization of everyday drinking is becoming a disturbing trend. As the holidays approach I’ve spoken to many clients who express incredulity at the idea of not drinking alcohol at holiday parties, Christmas dinner, or New Year’s Eve. It’s as if that just isn’t done.

So how does someone manage the holiday season with little or no alcohol onboard? More importantly, why should you?

1. For starters, hangovers aren’t fun: It’s just not good self-care to drink too much and then suffer the next morning with an aching head. Many people ruin a perfectly good day off from work by drinking too much on New Year’s Eve. And what could be worse than spending Christmas morning pounding aspirin and regretting the night before? Naturally, the best way to avoid a hangover is not to drink at all. But if you’d like to enjoy some spirits:

  • Make sure you eat protein, such as cheese and crackers, before lifting a glass.
  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach.
  • Decide ahead of time what your limit will be. Two drinks is a good rule of thumb, if you pace yourself over several hours. But keep in mind that according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) one drink equals: a 12-ounce beer, a five-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
  • Switching over to water later in the evening is also a good way to remain hydrated and avoid feeling dried out the next day.

2. Don’t buy into the idea that “Everyone drinks.”: In my opinion Companies that sell alcohol have gone into overdrive to make consumers think that it’s completely standard to drink beer all afternoon if you’re watching a football game. Everyone drinks alcohol at a wedding or a holiday party, right? Who would go out on New Year’s Eve and not have something alcoholic to drink? I have many clients who worry how they’ll appear to others if they don’t have an alcoholic drink in their hand at social occasions, as if it were abnormal to abstain. To be honest, no one is going to notice, or care, if that fizzy water with a lime in it contains vodka or not.

3. You are what you think: Try to avoid the thought that it’s easier to be social if you have a drink. It isn’t. You just think you’re more social when in reality you’ve altered the judgment seat in your brain, so you believe you’re more outgoing and friendly. It’s more likely that you’ve simply lowered your inhibitions, which can lead to lapses in judgment that could, at a minimum embarrass you, or at worse be fatal (such as getting behind the wheel of a car). Remember, you don’t feel the need to have a glass of wine to chat with your co-workers or go on a shopping trip with a friend. So you don’t need social lubricant just because you’re at a holiday party. Just be yourself and all will be well.

4. Enjoy the real you: Remember, what you believe becomes reality. Meaning that if you think an event will be less fun if you don’t indulge in spirits, then you probably won’t have a good time. Focus on all the benefits of not drinking, or limiting your drinking. We’ve already mentioned no hangover the next day, but focus on being fully present in the moment, which is a wonderful feeling. Instead of looking at friends and family through the lens of an alcohol buzz you can actually be present in the moment and be your authentic self with people you care about. Additionally, you’ll be less likely to get tired early in the evening because you won’t be affected by the sedating effects of alcohol.

5. Truly appreciate the season: Seek out and enjoy non-alcohol focused holiday activities. If you don’t have small children to help celebrate with you it can be easy to forget that there is so much more to the holiday season than dinners and parties. This time of year is a wonderful time to enjoy special concerts, holiday parades, sleigh rides, festivals of lights, and religious ceremonies. What does fun look like to you? This can be a great time to step out of your comfort zone and create new traditions and memories that don’t involve liquor.

Whether you choose to indulge in a drink or not, it’s important to focus on the real reason for the holiday season. It’s about family and friends and sharing quality time with people you care about. Alcohol won’t necessarily ruin the family dinner or office party. But it can if you don’t have a plan in place for factoring in your alcohol intake. And if you feel that it’s difficult to limit drinking during the holidays, it might be a good time to take a look at your relationship with alcohol. Happy holidays!

Susan Lunt MA LCMHC, MLADC is both a clinical mental health counselor and Master level alcohol and drug counselor. Susan has extensive experience in addiction, anxiety, stress, anger management, relationship issues, and depression. As a dually-licensed clinician, Susan provides substance misuse evaluations, one-on-one therapy, relapse prevention therapy, substance use and co-occurring mental health disorder evaluations for the criminal justice system, and DUI aftercare counseling.

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