University of California at Berkeley

Alcohol and the Holidays

'Tis the Season to Take Care

 by Patrick Conlin

It's easy for the holidays to become, in a phrase, "too much." Too much commercialism, too much shopping, too much spending and too much alcohol. Holiday parties serving egg nog with alcohol. New Year's Eve parties with plenty of alcohol. Bowl game parties replete with you guessed it alcohol.

It's scary to think how many holiday traditions have become intertwined with alcohol and excess how seasonal "cheer" has become synonymous with over-doing it and alcohol has become synonymous with that perfect, easy gift. (If left up to the major distillers, of course, everyone would get a bottle for the holidays.)

This year, it doesn't have to be that way, for yourself or your loved ones. Here are a few ideas to consider.

Consider taking alcohol off your gift list. Some say 10 to 20 percent of all adults use alcohol problematically; this in turn can affect many friends and loved ones. The holidays can be an especially difficult time for recovering substance abusers and their children and partners. Supporting them with this smallest of gestures may be the least one can do.

Consider eliminating or reducing the amount of alcohol on your menu for work and home parties. Offer non-alcoholic egg nog and other seasonal drinks. If you do serve alcohol during holiday celebrations, consider displaying non-alcoholic alternatives in plain view and in an attractive fashion. Make extra efforts to support the use of designated drivers, taxi services and other means of keeping intoxicated people off the roads.

Consider your children, especially your teenagers. Talking with teens about the heightened risks from alcohol during the holiday season can be helpful. School breaks typically mean lots of free time and lots of socializing with friends, not to mention increased access to alcohol that comes with the parties. The risk of auto accidents caused by intoxicated drivers imperils everyone, including teens as drivers and passengers. Consider, too, that modeling is worth a thousand words. It's hard to get the message of moderation across if your own choices around alcohol verge on excess.

If you are recovering from alcohol or drug abuse, consider seeking extra support. Recovering people understand intellectually that the holidays are filled with powerful temptations and potential pitfalls, especially when the people around us are drinking. On a more emotional level, there is often pain and heartache associated with holidays past, and loneliness and isolation during the holidays present. If you are recovering, consider attending that extra meeting or developing extra support to take care of yourself throughout the season.

If a friend or loved one has a substance abuse problem, consider seeking support and assistance now. The holidays can be exceptionally chaotic and painful for the families and friends of people with substance abuse problems. At the same time, it's not uncommon for abusers to "hit bottom" during or immediately after the season, and therefore, to become more open to seeking help.

If you are currently struggling with alcohol, or with other drugs, there is help available. CARE Services, the employee assistance program for faculty and staff, offers free, confidential assistance for a wide range of personal and family problems, including substance abuse problems. There are also numerous community agencies and 12-step programs available to support you.

For more help...

  • Call CARE Services at 643-7754 for additional information and confidential assistance.

  • For a list of Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon or other 12-step meetings on or near campus, visit the University Health Service web page:


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