Celebrating the Holiday Season Safely

Facts and myths about alcohol

Holiday celebrations often include alcohol. From spiced wine to eggnog to champagne to craft beers made specially made for the season, drinking is traditional at many—or most—holiday gatherings. A number of people have one drink at a gathering to be convivial over the course of an evening; others may have two. That’s social drinking. However, some celebrants drink more and engage in binge drinking. For males, binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks within two hours or so, and for females, the number of drinks is four or more in the same period.

Experts at Caron Treatment Centers suggest that these partygoers may not even realize they’re binge drinking. According to Caron’s annual holiday survey conducted by Harris Interactive, higher-risk drinking at holiday parties is acceptable to many people, even though they’ve observed significant consequences of drinking to excess, including drunk driving, sexual harassment, and violence.

“We tend to see an increase in alcohol abuse during the holidays and the findings show that many people have no sense of how much alcohol is healthy to consume or how it impairs them when they go past that low-risk limit. It’s a serious public safety concern when 60% of adults who attend holiday parties witnessed dangerous and even illegal behavior,” said Dr. Harris Stratyner, PhD, Regional Clinical Vice President of Caron Treatment Centers in New York.

The Caron survey found that over 90% of Americans have attended family holiday parties and nearly 80% have attended workplace parties. Yet, not all are aware of what constitutes binge drinking or they’re not taking it seriously. Unfortunately, drinking to excess during the holidays may also indicate a more serious issue. One in 12 adults in this country suffers from alcohol abuse or dependence, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD).

Even if you drink responsibly at other times of the year, you may get caught up in the spirit of the holidays and not be careful. Additionally, you may feel especially stressed with all you have to do or because family dynamics can be tough at this time of year. You may think of turning to alcohol “to take the edge off.”

With a bit of planning and foresight, you can enjoy the holidays without drinking to excess. Make sure you know the difference between the facts and myths about alcohol. Here are a few myths you may have heard:

If you eat before you start drinking, you won’t become inebriated. False. It may take longer for you to become inebriated if you eat beforehand because alcohol will be absorbed into your bloodstream more slowly, but eating is no protection against becoming drunk.

Beer is less intoxicating than other alcoholic drinks. False. In fact, a 4-ounce glass of wine and a 12-ounce can of beer are equally intoxicating.

Having coffee or taking a walk in the fresh air will sober you up if you’ve been drinking to excess. False. It takes about an hour for your body to rid itself of the alcohol in one drink and nothing can sober you up faster.

Here are some tips for staying healthy and safe this season:

  • To reduce stress, take care of yourself. Don’t take on too many responsibilities or accept more invitations than you’re comfortable with. You don’t have to say yes to everything. Make time for those things you like to do.
  • Get enough sleep and exercise.
  • Instead of having two drinks, make the second drink water.
  • If you plan to drink, make sure you have a designated driver or someone to pick you up.


Dr. Harris B. Stratyner is the Regional Clinical Vice President of Caron Treatment Center's New York Recovery Services, and is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr. Stratyner is a nationally recognized expert on co-occurring disorders and treats mentally ill and chemically addicted individuals and families.

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