Enjoying the Holiday Spirits

The holiday season will soon be upon us and many are looking forward to the fun, festivities, and traditions to come.  The season is often filled with joyous occasions like holiday parties and family gatherings, but for many, it can also mean a lot of stress.  Whether we are having a good time or just trying to relax, people will often make the choice to have an alcoholic beverage during this time of the year. 

So what if I do choose to drink over the holidays?  Many people make low risk choices during the holidays that help them avoid the negative outcomes of alcohol misuse.  As a matter of fact, research suggests that the majority of individuals who consume alcohol in this country do so in a low risk manner.  During the holidays, we may be faced with opportunities that influence us to drink more than we might normally.  What are some things we might keep in mind when these opportunities arise?

For starters, recognize that you may be dealing with additional stress during the holiday months.  This stress can sometimes lead us to consume more alcohol, or drink more often.  It is important for us to find healthy ways to manage this stress rather than turn to something like alcohol.  Poor coping mechanisms like overindulgence in alcohol take away from the holiday experience and in the long run might even leave you with problems that last well beyond the holidays.  Instead, find ways to manage your stress this holiday season in a healthy manner.  Healthy stress management can include activities like exercise, keeping close contact with your supports, meditation or prayer, and recreational opportunities.  It can also help to keep our expectations of the holiday season realistic.  It is up to us to live in the moment and enjoy each holiday experience.  

For those that do choose to consume alcohol, there are some valuable guidelines that can help us avoid problems.  The Prevention Research Institute, creators of the Prime for Life program, have developed an evidence-based guideline grounded in over 200 pieces of research.  This guideline is taught throughout the Marine Corps as a standard for what low-risk alcohol and substance use entails. The guideline is effectively known as the “0-1-2-3” method, which is very easy to remember. So what does each number of the guideline stand for?

The “0” refers to illicit drug use, misuse of prescription and over-the-counter medications, or alcohol consumption for those with a current alcohol use disorder.  Once a person has been diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder, the lowest-risk option for them is abstinence. This is often referred to as “recovery” and many people in recovery can and do flourish during the holiday season. The “0” is also recommended for certain individuals with health problems or taking medications that may be adversely affected by alcohol consumption.

The “1” refers to having one standard drink per hour.  A standard drink is measured as 5 ounces of wine, 1 ½ ounces of 80 proof liquor, or 12 ounces of 5% ABV beer. Research suggests that having more than one drink per hour increases our risk of experiencing impairment related problems.  Impairment related problems include things like accidents, injuries, poor decision making, and conflict with others.       

The “2” refers to the maximum number of drinks daily that would be low-risk.  Research suggests that most people can have one to two standard drinks each day without increasing risk for problems. Research shows that having more than two standard drinks per day increases the risk for health problems, poor quality of life, and a decreased life span.  However, people that have certain risk factors, such as a family history of alcoholism or addiction, may consider not consuming alcohol daily.

The “3” refers to the maximum number of drinks a person can have in any one day if they are not a daily drinker.  Research shows that having more than three standard drinks on one occasion increases risk for both impairment and health-related problems. 

These guidelines are a great way to not only reduce your risk of problems for the holidays, but also for a lifetime.  Please note that these guidelines are “low-risk” and not “no risk.”  There is a small possibility that someone consuming in these guidelines could experience an alcohol or substance related problem. For those that want to be “no risk,” their best option is abstinence.  Additionally, the guidelines are also based on following applicable laws, such as not drinking underage or driving impaired.  

I truly hope that you have a wonderful holiday season and are able to make great memories with family and friends.  I encourage you to consider these guidelines as a way to get the most out of your holiday experiences.  If you would like additional information about the guidelines, or need resources and support, please contact Brent Baker, MCAS Cherry Point Alcohol Abuse Prevention Specialist at (252) 466-4875.