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Holiday Drunk
Going to holiday parties isn't always fun, but at least there's usually some booze. But why do you always have to get drunk?

Kaia Lai (www.kaialai.com)
Go easy on the egg nog this year if you're using it to get throught the get together.

It's that time of year again—when I get drunk. Why do I get drunk during all of my holiday get-togethers?

Family get-togethers can be tough. Everybody knows that. Wouldn’t it be great if all the stress of seeing your parents, siblings and in-laws would just evaporate—POOF!, into thin air? Well, they can! All you have to do is have a few mixed drinks, a couple bottles of beer or work your way through a bottle of wine. If you put enough alcohol in your system your problems will seemingly disappear.

One reason that people drink is to help numb the feelings of tension that crank up just about the time you spot those Salvation Army volunteers, and reach their peak as you load your kids into the back of the minivan and head up to your family cabin on the eve of the holiday. If you drink for this reason, you’re turning to the anti-anxiety properties of alcohol.

Some people have problems interacting with others, and may find alcohol helps smooth over fears that come with gatherings of people. If that’s the case, you may be using alcohol as a social lubricant. Some drink to help them sleep at night, and use alcohol for its sedative effects. Some folks drink because everyone else seems to be drinking, and it’s a way to fit in. Still, other folks drink around the holidays because, frankly, they don’t need an excuse for drinking. Alcoholics incorporate drinking into all aspects of their lives, and that definitely includes the winter holidays.

So with so many good reasons to drink, why doesn’t everyone do it? Temporarily, downing a shot may numb your anxiety or improve your social skills, but there are some big negatives that go along with it. Excessive use of alcohol can have devastating consequences: alcohol can impair your judgment, often leading to saying or doing something that you’ll be sorry for later on; moreover, it can cause you to lose control in times of conflict. Most people who are in prison for violent crimes have had alcohol or drugs in their systems when they commit them. That’s pretty sobering.

Beyond the problems that alcohol can cause in your social life, excessive use can damage your liver, brain and bone marrow. Drinking is one of the major causes of automobile accidents and injuries—as you may have heard. Also, the temporary relief you get from anxiety when you drink often comes back even stronger the following day as your body rebounds from the withdrawal from alcohol that was in your system.

When it comes to alcohol and the holidays, why not make this a year of "less is more." If you plan to attend social gatherings, plan before hand what and if you want to drink, and make sure you stick by your plan. Some ways to make sure you don’t overdo it.
  • Set a limit in your mind before you arrive at your destination. Because people tend to lose count pretty easily, tell your partner what the limit is, and ask him or her to participate in helping you stick to it. Then don’t get defensive when your spouse tells you it’s "closing time."
  • Don’t drink before you arrive. Instead, eat a few high protein foods (like cheese or meat) that will slow down the absorption of alcohol. Make sure you stop drinking well before you’re ready to go home, or have a designated driver ready.
  • Plan on drinking non-alcoholic drinks (diet sodas, club soda or water are best) in between the hard stuff. This also helps you stay hydrated.
  • Find another release. If the dynamics in the room start to intensify and you’re tempted to reach for a glass of wine, choose instead to cool off by going for a walk outside, helping out in the kitchen, or changing the CD in the stereo. Anything to help you get back on track without having to resort to booze.
  • If drinking is a regular habit, and you can’t reduce your consumption through these strategies, you may need professional help. Contact your local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous or talk to your doctor.
Alcohol seems like an easy answer to the stresses of a family reunion or company parties, but it often causes more problems than it solves. Having a good plan for minimizing drinking during get-togethers will keep you in good shape the night of the party, and assure you wake up the next morning without a splitting headache.

Dr. Haltzman is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University. He is the author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife’s Heart Forever." You can find Dr. Haltzman at www.DrScott.com

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