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Tips to manage alcohol intake over the holiday season

With the abundance of alcohol on offer, for many Australians end-of-year parties and holiday social events can become a trigger for overindulging in alcohol. A psychiatric nurse and mental health expert has warned that this can be a difficult time to manage alcohol intake, but it can be done if we follow a few strategic steps.

Wesley Hospital spokesperson Sara Kenna, who has had more than 15 years’ experience treating addictions and other mental illnesses, said the hospital – which has provided world-class health treatment for more than 60 years – is already seeing an increase in admissions for alcohol and stress in the lead up to Christmas.

“It can be difficult for some people to manage alcohol at end-of-year parties and holiday gatherings, as they find it hard to enjoy themselves without having a drink,” Sara said. “While they may not be drinking to manage stress or anxiety, social gatherings can trigger the need to drink, and drink excessively.

“Others might lean on drinking as a way to cope with issues that arise at this time of the year. Often family gatherings can bring painful memories for some people, while those that are estranged from friends and family are left feeling lonely and isolated. Others may be experiencing financial strain, and then there are those that feel social anxiety about having to attend social events. It is often difficult to avoid these situations, which is why we need to develop strategies to manage how we consume alcohol over the holidays,” Sara said.

Sara Kenna’s nine tips for managing alcohol over the Christmas period

  1. Identify the triggers that may lead you to drink excessively. Whether it is the anxiety of having to attend a party or family gathering, it is important to identify the situations that may lead you to drinking excessively. The best way to manage these triggers is to avoid them. However, that is not always possible. Instead, invite a supportive friend along to a Christmas event you feel anxious about, or practise conversation starters before a party, so that you do not have to revert to alcohol to converse freely.
  2. Do not feel pressured to accept invites. Many people attend Christmas family gatherings with relatives that have inflicted pain on them or their family members. Do not feel pressured to accept these invitations. Alcohol can become the social lubricant to help you get through social gatherings, but this can lead to a dysfunctional disaster.
  3. Set limits. Generally, adults should limit themselves to no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion. However, alcohol affects us all differently, and it is important to know your limits. Identify these limits before you start drinking, as alcohol impairs your impulse control. Having parameters on your drinking, such as two alcohol free days a week, or not drinking before 5pm, will also help you to control your intake over the holiday season.
  4. Alternate with a non-alcoholic drink. Start with a non-alcoholic beverage, or switch between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. This will not only slow down the amount of alcohol getting into your system but will keep you comfortable in a social setting.
  5. Be open and assertive when saying no. Patients receiving treatment for addiction are taught to be honest about their limits, and this also applies to those managing alcohol intake over the holidays. Discipline yourself to stick to your own limits, and if you have had enough to drink, or have a diagnosis with addiction, be open about it.
  6. Keep track of serving sizes. You may think you are only having one drink when you order a glass of wine, but most restaurants and bars usually serve wine in 150ml glasses, which equates to 1.4 to 1.6 standard drinks. Meanwhile, a bottle of beer and cans of premixed spirits can contain up to 1.4 and 2.1 drinks respectively. Manage the number of drinks you consumerby pouring your own drinks at parties, and avoid topping up on a half empty glass.
  7. Use SOBER to avoid the urge. When you feel the urge to pour another drink, Stop and Observe what you are doing. Take a Breath, then Evaluate your choices and whether you need another drink. After that you can Respond accordingly.
  8. Do not drink on an empty stomach. It is always recommended to have a proper meal before you start drinking, as it takes time for the body to digest food. Lining your stomach with food slows down the absorption of alcohol into the blood stream, and if you are going to drink for an extended period, it is important to continue to eat.
  9. Seek help. If you are worried about Christmas gatherings, or have had trouble managing alcohol in the past, your first port of call is telephone support services or your GP, who can put you on a mental health care plan to see a psychologist. Treatment programs are also available at specialised clinics such as Wesley Hospital, which provide comprehensive physical and psychiatric assessment, detoxification and rehabilitation to help in the recovery and management of alcohol addiction.

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