Enjoying Time Over the Holidays

2020 has been quite the year for us. Circumstances and events like COVID-19 have certainly changed the way that we interact with others and what our lives look like on a daily basis. As we move into the latter part of this year, we start approaching the holiday season. This can be a great time of the year to be with friends and family celebrating and having fun. Many of us hope to be able to enjoy ourselves over the holiday season and maybe even put some of the more stressful circumstances of 2020 behind us.

As we look at some events throughout this year, it may not be a surprise that alcohol sales and consumption in the United States have increased. This trend was likely related to increased isolation, stress, and boredom many experienced due to COVID-19. While it is a common observation that alcohol consumption typically increases for many people during the holiday season, this coupled along with current consumption trends could spell trouble for people who may be tempted to overindulge.

There are many ways to enjoy the holiday season and avoid some of the problems associated with overconsumption. First, acknowledge that the 2020 holiday season may look a little different than previous years and be open to these new experiences. In the day of social distancing, masks, and increased restrictions, holiday gatherings will likely look different and possibly less intimate than usual. We can adjust our expectations and still have a fulfilling holiday season. When we cannot gather in-person with friends and family, we may try one of the available video or chat platforms which allow us to meet virtually. It may seem a little different, but many people have gatherings, dinners, and meetings with others virtually. Connecting with others may be slightly more challenging, but with some imagination and todays technologies, these connections are still possible.

It is important to emphasize how important it is for us to decide how much alcohol we plan to consume whether we gather with our friends or family in person or online. Research suggests that the majority of individuals who consume alcohol during the holidays in this country make low-risk choices that help them avoid the negative outcomes of alcohol misuse. However, it is possible that many of us may be exposed to opportunities or even social pressure that could influence us to drink more than we normally would. So, what are the strategies we can keep in mind when such situations or opportunities arise?

According to the Prevention Research Institute, which is the creator of the Prime for Life Program, it has developed an evidence-based guideline called the “0-1-2-3” method, which is not only grounded in extensive research, but also has been found very effective. In addition, throughout the Marine Corps the guideline has been utilized and adopted as a standard for what low-risk alcohol and substance use entails.

The “0” refers to illicit drug use, misuse of prescription and over-the-counter medications, or alcohol consumption for those with a current substance use disorder. Once a person has been diagnosed with a substance 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 even in small amounts.

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.

With a little bit of imagination and technology, we can still find meaningful ways to connect with those we care about and have a fulfilling holiday season. I encourage you to participate in safe practices whether observing COVID restrictions or limiting the amount of alcohol you consume. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance misuse or would like more information on low risk alcohol consumption, contact the Alcohol Abuse Prevention Specialist at (252) 466-8413.

-By Brent Baker