Alcohol Harm Reduction for the Holidays

This blog was originally published by WEconnect Health Management

The holidays are a time of celebration, love, and family that can be exhilarating for some and soul-crushing for others. Whether one is of the former subset or dreads the holidays like going to the dentist, the anesthetic of choice in America is alcohol. 

In America, the holidays are a time of excess. Excess shopping, excess eating, and definitely excess drinking. It’s the time of year where weight loss goals are swept aside and sugary treats abound. Many of us go into debt trying to “win” Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, etc. And of course, the boozy eggnog, sugary cider, champagne, and more are imbibed in the shared indulgence of jolly gatherings… then the hangovers come crashing in, full of regret. 

Most of us know some ways to reduce the harms of alcohol. Some of us had parents that gave us a get-out-of-jail-free card: “Call me if you’ve been drinking.” We learned to never drive drunk and always have a designated driver, but typically that’s the only piece of cookie-cutter wisdom shared around safer drinking. Luckily, there are some more easy tips and tricks that can help keep us all a little healthier and a little safer this year as we move through the holiday season.

  1. Plan ahead. Be realistic about the fact that you are going to drink. Not having a plan is definitely starting off on the wrong foot. Even the basic tenets like “never drive drunk” are on the chopping block if we don’t acknowledge we are likely to have a few drinks beforehand. 
  2. Hydrate. Alcohol is literally toxic sludge that is slowly poisoning our insides, leaving us dehydrated with pounding heads. Just remember to have water before you drink, while drinking, and after the party’s over. Even a final glass chugged before bed can help balance out the toxins and render them much less of a threat to our bodies. A good rule to follow is to have a glass of water between drinks. 
  3. EAT! Make sure to have a meal before or while drinking. Alcohol is absorbed slower with food in your stomach, preventing the “sloppy” episodes that can inspire embarrassing confessions, drunk dials, and Facebook posts. Which leads us to the next tip:
  4. Put your phone away. Whoever you hand over your car keys to, consider handing them your smartphone, too! Logging into social media or engaging in conversations with folx who aren’t with you in real time can be problematic for all involved and require major clean-up later. 
  5. Practice safe sex. Let’s face it: “liquid courage” can sometimes lead to unplanned sex. As unrealistic as this may sound while you are preparing for your night of drinking, it happens. Carrying condoms or other contraceptives are an excellent way to avoid lifelong consequences.
  6. Drug-related decisions. The same “liquid courage” that can lead to unplanned hookups can also lead to unplanned drug use. For those of us with a history of chaotic drug use, alcohol might lead us down a slippery slope. Being mindful of our past can help us navigate the future. Having a trusted peer to discuss decisions while we’re drinking can be a difference maker, so consider having someone with you that knows your boundaries; this is the ultimate form of harm reduction. 
  7. Consider abstaining. The only way to mitigate all harm from drinking is to not drink. If your drinking feels like it’s becoming problematic, there is NO shame in asking for help or swapping out booze for the latest mocktail. 

For more information about alcohol harm reduction, check out the HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol site. To find a supportive community in the form of Harm Reduction mutual aid support meetings, please visit the Harm Reduction Works link directory. 

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