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5 Tips for Striking a Balance With Alcohol During the Holidays

Dr. Nicole Stelter shares ways to keep our relationship with alcohol joyous this holiday season.

By Dr. Nicole Stelter, PhD, LMFT, and Director of Behavioral Health for Blue Shield of California 

Dr Nicole Stelter
Dr. Nicole Stelter

The holidays can be an exciting and joyful time of year, filled with gatherings, family and friends. For better or worse, many of these gatherings come with the invitation to enjoy a few holiday drinks. A quarter of the $49 billion-a-year distilled spirits industry’s profits happen between Thanksgiving and the New Year, per the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.  

Many find this time of year to be an extra challenge, and we want to do what we can to stay on the right path and provide support to others when needed. If you are in recovery or know someone in recovery this holiday season, stick to your best self-care practices and ask those around you how they might need extra support. And for those still including alcohol in their holiday celebrations, here are some basic but important things to consider about our own behavior with alcohol to ensure the holiday season stays joyous.

5 tips for managing holiday drinking  

If you are trying to strike a balance with alcohol consumption over the holiday season, here are a few tips to consider:  

  1. Plan ahead and set a party (or drink) limit

Overcommitting to parties and other holiday activities is an easy trap to fall into if we’re trying to do everything and please everyone. This isn't realistic, and there will be times when you should say “no,” especially if you want to limit your consumption and are wary of certain events or people who encourage you to over-imbibe. Consider setting a drink limit for yourself and make sure to rotate in a water or non-alcoholic beverage after every alcoholic drink to avoid going over that limit. 

  1. Find a holiday buddy 

Create a “buddy system” during the holidays with someone you trust. Whether you want to set boundaries around alcohol consumption ahead of parties or need support going into a stressful day with family, having a partner (i.e., spouse, sibling, friend, coworker) to talk things through ahead of time and set healthy boundaries can be key.  

  1. Be mindful of your overall intake with food and drink 

Whether traveling or attending social gatherings, how, what, and when we drink and eat shifts during the holidays. You may skip a meal because you are rushing around, and then drink later that same day during a party. This can make the effects of alcohol more pronounced. Some may also drink more alcohol while increasing the number of sweets and other unhealthy holiday foods, which can throw a wrench into your sleep and other self-care routines. Try to maintain your health during the holidays by being mindful of what you consume, including alcohol and food.  

  1. Double down on self-care 

People often think that a few drinks will help them relax or that more wine will help them sleep, but there’s a rebound effect with alcohol that can actually make you feel worse and make your sleep worse, not better. If you’re feeling overwhelmed about too many upcoming activities or anxious about socializing, instead of turning to alcohol, double down on self-care. Whatever helps you feel healthy and balanced, keep those activities in place throughout the holidays and do your best not to skip out on what helps you take care of you.  

  1. Prepare for when others over-drink 

Are you worried about how much your spouse might drink over the holidays? Concerned your parent might overindulge and bring up a sensitive topic you don't want to discuss? Check in on your expectations going into the holidays, and practice addressing the stressful situation in advance. Practice navigating your emotions via “cognitive rehearsal” (e.g. thinking through how you know you’ll feel and how you want to respond) so that you have a plan and feel prepared. This way, instead of getting frazzled in real time if someone has too much to drink, you'll have practiced handling it and feel better positioned to navigate the situation with ease.   

Blue Shield and more can help 

If you’re feeling unsure about whether your alcohol (or other substance) consumption is going too far, ask yourself if it’s impacting your relationships, work, or other health considerations. Are you regularly hungover, struggling during the workday, or skipping personal commitments? If yes, consider seeking professional help. And if you’re not sure whether it’s problem behavior, that’s OK too. Start with taking a first step to educate yourself.

  • For mental health resources to find a balance with alcohol or navigating holiday stress, Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky program and CredibleMind portal offer personalized mental health and resilience information and resources, such as self-assessment tools that can help people explore and better understand their behaviors and limits.
  • Substance abuse programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon, a program for people worried about someone with a drinking problem, could also prove useful. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers resources for those in recovery.
  • And we know that stress – regardless of the time of year or cause – over time is one of the risk factors for problematic substance use. Blue Shield’s Wellvolution program offers a number of stress-management and resilience programming to help you and yours navigate stress in healthy ways so your risks for health conditions, including addiction, are lower.