Alcohol and the Holidays: the facts you need to know to protect your health

12.04.14 |

It’s a wonderful time of year. Old friends come into town. Your busy family has a few moments to pause and enjoy each other’s company. And most of us are thinking about the many things that we have to be thankful for. The holidays are a joyous time, and I want to encourage you to keep optimal health in your sights throughout all of it.

You likely know that you should avoid overeating and that you should limit your sweets, but new research suggests that many Americans do not fully grasp the impact that alcohol can have on their health. During the holidays, with so much to celebrate and so many stories to tell, you can easily drift from an acceptable level of consumption into excessive, dangerous levels of consumption.

You may have seen The New York Times or NPR cover this issue, but let me give you the Habits of Health perspective on the new Center for Disease Control research that has been popping up in the news.

Here are the facts:

  • Moderate amounts of alcohol, especially red wine, can lower inflammation, the risk of heart disease, and the risk of Type 2 Diabetes.
  • For women, “moderate” means about one drink a day.
  • For men, “moderate” means about one or two drinks a day.
  • Too much alcohol can cause dehydration and throw your body out of a fat-burning state.
  • In addition to a number of disease risks—like liver disease and heart disease—excessive alcohol consumption can stimulate your appetite in a powerful way.

Doctor Robert Brewer, one of the co-authors of the new CDC study, told NPR, “The reality of the situation is that most adults who drink, they’re drinking maybe a couple drinks during week and then typically drinking [larger] amounts on weekends.”

With a drink defined as 1.5 ounces of spirits, 12 ounces of beer, or 5 ounces wine, slipping from moderate into excessive is all too easy, especially in social situations, Brewer says. In previous posts and in my books, I have talked at length about the importance of your support network, the value of having health-conscious individuals around you to prevent situations where you are tempted to deviate from your optimal health journey. The holidays, however, present a unique challenge.

The good news

The CDC found that 90 percent of excessive drinkers are not suffering from alcoholism. If you are concerned about your tendency to drink more than you should, this should give you hope because you are in control of your destiny. You have the potential within you to make the healthy choice when the time comes.

But don’t leave that choice up to chance. Go into the holidays with a plan and a safety net.
Before you even enter a social situation, think about the cues that might trigger the routine (the habit) of having a drink.

Perhaps everyone in the family shares a case of beer during the big game, so you might volunteer to be the designated driver for the night or to stay in the kitchen to help rather. Perhaps a certain relative triggers anxiety in you, so you might ready a Stop. Challenge. Choose. sequence in your mind ahead of time to help you step away from the situation and keep a cool head. Perhaps you feel like you might not be able to resist the temptation, so you might ask a trusted loved one to hold you accountable for your actions. You could even reach out to your health coach for support if you feel especially panicked.

The keys here are to understand your habit loops (the relationship between cues, routines, and rewards) and to lean on the power of behavior support to help you make the right decisions. You don’t need alcohol to enjoy the holidays, and if you limit your intake, you can expect to share many more of them with the ones that you love.

Be safe. Be healthy.