Alcohol consumption spikes during holiday season


Dear Doctors: I come from a large family, and we’ll have a lot of holiday parties. I want to enjoy myself, but I also want to start the new year feeling healthy. My concern is more about drinking alcohol than about eating. I would appreciate it if you could talk about how to handle that part of the holidays.

Dear Reader: When people think about how to manage the numerous excesses of this time of year, the focus is often on the abundance of rich food. Whether it’s at home, the office or social gatherings, we’re actively encouraged to overindulge. And this turns out to be true not just for those tempting platters of cookies, cakes and other sweet and savory treats, but for alcohol consumption as well.

Surveys into the question suggest that in the weeks between Thanksgiving and the new year, alcohol consumption spikes. For some people, it’s as much as double what they drink during the rest of the year. With eggnog, adult ciders, spiked punch and celebratory glasses of sparkling wine, it’s not that hard for extra alcohol to creep into one’s daily life.

Even a short-term increase in alcohol use can have adverse health effects, including changes in blood sugar control and blood pressure. It can also lead to changes to mood and mental health, lowered resistance to risky behaviors, increased risk of trips or falls and dangerous driving. Statistics show that during the winter holidays, the chances of being involved in an alcohol-related crash increase. All of which is to say that your concerns about holiday drinking are well-founded.

Elizabeth Ko, MD and Eve Glazier, MD
Begin by crafting a plan. Set a drinking limit for yourself before each event -- and stick to it. This can absolutely include the decision to not drink any alcohol at all. If you are going to partake, never do so on an empty stomach. Have a meal, or at least a snack, before heading into the festivities. Once inside, make the food table your first stop, and stick to the protein and vegetable side of things. Protein and fiber both help stabilize blood sugar and keep you feeling full. When you do drink, stay aware of portion size. If you’re planning on more than a single glass of wine or punch or nog, slow down the pace with a nonalcoholic drink (or two) before you refill.

Peer pressure is a real thing when it comes to drinking. Get your nonalcoholic drink served in a wine glass or a flute, and you can head off uncomfortable conversations. Set a time at which you will stop drinking and, again, stick to it. Offers of more alcohol may come your way, so it’s also a good idea to prepare a gracious or funny way to refuse.

For people like yourself, with large families and numerous gatherings to attend, the holidays can be daunting. It helps to visualize this period as a marathon. By preparing yourself in advance, visualizing and even practicing your behaviors, you’ll be much better equipped to navigate the amped-up social drinking landscape.

(Send your questions to [email protected], or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10960 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1955, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)