- For those trying to cut back on drinking alcohol, attending holiday gatherings may be challenging.
- But there are simple ways to achieve your goal of drinking alcohol mindfully or going alcohol-free this holiday season.
- From sipping slowly to smaller portions or opting for a higher quality beverage, experts share tips to help you pace yourself at holiday parties.
Alcohol is often a staple at many holiday gatherings and festivities. In many cases, it’s viewed as a way to increase holiday cheer.
However, its presence can be a challenge for those looking to create a healthy relationship with drinking.
“Some of us experience peer pressure from others as society places a lot of importance on including alcohol in celebrations,” Leah Young, LCPC, clinical manager at Eating Recovery Center and Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center, told Healthline.
Others turn to alcohol to help cope with complicated feelings of loneliness, sadness, or anxiousness around family members who are no longer alive or those they dread seeing at the holidays.
“When people feel sad or anxious, they may find themselves drinking to ease their emotional pain,” Sarah Church, PhD, founder and executive direction of Wholeview Wellness Centers, told Healthline.
As you navigate all the gatherings you agreed to this holiday season, there are a few ways you can drink alcohol mindfully.
Whether cutting back on alcohol or abstaining altogether, these expert-backed tips will help you stick to your plan and enjoy the festivities.
Savor your beverage
Rather than gulping down your drink, Church said pay attention to the way the drink tastes, how it smells, and what it looks like.
“Use all your senses to notice the color, aroma, the mouthfeel, and flavor of your drink,” she said.
For example, if you are having a glass of wine, pretend it is part of a tasting.
“You can swirl it in the glass, notice the aroma, watch to see if it has ‘legs’ as it moves back down the glass. Notice the color of the wine and when you take a sip, pay attention to the taste, see if you notice any particular flavors,” said Church.
This will also force you to slow down and give your body and mind time to register the effects of alcohol.
Hydrate with water or a nonalcoholic drink
Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or other non-alcoholic (NA) beverages, such as juice, soda, or NA beer and wine to stay hydrated and to pace yourself.
“Take a moment to check in with yourself between drinks to see if you really want another one,” said Church. “The standard advice is to wait at least one hour between alcoholic drinks. This allows your body enough time to process the alcohol and helps prevent excessive consumption.”
Young noted that there are ways to still feel part of traditions without drinking alcohol.
“If your dad creates a cocktail recipe every winter, challenge him to create a mocktail, too,” she said.
Choose quality over quantity
Rather than consuming large quantities of lower-quality beverages, Church suggested going with higher-quality drinks, such as premium wine, top-shelf liquor, or craft beer.
“Higher-quality drinks often have more nuanced flavors, which can be savored slowly. But, be mindful of alcohol content, some of these drinks may have higher alcohol content, so you have to factor that in when you are trying to keep your drink count down. One craft beer may equal two standard drinks,” she said.
Focus on people and activities
Rather than making alcohol the highlight of events, focus on engaging in meaningful conversations and enjoying activities at the party.
“Be the adult who horses around with the kids, get a game or activity going so that the focus is on that instead of sitting around a table drinking, [or] help out the host,” said Young.
Before going to an event, Church said think about what else you can engage in other than drinking.
“Maybe you want to take some pictures of people so you remember the event, or you want to make sure to introduce certain people to one another,” she said. “If there is live music, you can focus on the performers or if there is a DJ, you might want to dance.”
Cut out alcohol before and after events
If you know you’re going to a social gathering where you will drink, cutting back on alcohol days before and after the event can help give your body a break. Saying “no” to pre-partying and post-partying that day is also a good strategy.
“If you limit your drinking to the time you spend with others, you’ll tend to drink less,” said Church.
Don’t stay the whole time
Rather than staying for the whole celebration, Young said arrive later, leave earlier, or do both.
“If you can, let the host know up front that you won’t likely be able to stay for long so that there are no surprises when you leave,” she said. “If you have the resources, travel to events separately so you have an escape route and discuss this with the person you are there with beforehand.”
While there, if you get overwhelmed, step outside for a break.
“If you’re able, bring a like-minded ally with you or enlist a sympathetic family member. It can be helpful to create some baseball signals that your ally can keep an eye out for so they can ‘suddenly need you in the other room,’” said Young.
For off-site support, she said enlist a friend to send you funny videos every 30 minutes or to be “on call” to answer you, if you need support mid-gathering.
If you tend to drink at social gatherings and suddenly you aren’t, people will notice.
Young said you don’t need to announce your intentions with alcohol to anyone who doesn’t need to know, but if you choose to share why you’re avoiding alcohol, she recommends preparing a few responses for different people.
For instance, depending on the person who asks if you would like a drink, you might say, “No, thank you” or you might ask for a non-alcoholic drink.
“We have this funny idea that when someone says, ‘Can I get you a drink?’ we can only respond with a request for alcohol. The last time I checked, soda water is a drink, milk, juice, mocktails, fizzy, flat, whatever, are all reasonable responses to that question,” Young said.
Depending on how close you feel to the person, you might give them more details, such as you’re not drinking for mental health reasons, physical health reasons, or to avoid interactions with medication.
“Some of us might choose to say, ‘I’ve had a problem with alcohol, so I’ve decided to not drink,’” said Young. “I wouldn’t recommend making up a lie to cover for not drinking — just share whatever portion of the truth that person deserves.”
Being straightforward is the best approach, added Church.
“Say something like, ‘I’m taking it easy on the drinks tonight’ or ‘I’m trying to pace myself tonight; I think I’ll start with sparkling water,’” she said.
If someone presses you about why you’re not drinking and you don’t want to give them more details, Church said try to shift the focus by saying something like, “I’m feeling a little dehydrated tonight, so I’m going to start out with some water. By the way, did you try these hors d’oeuvres? They’re delicious!”
You can also shut down their inquisitiveness with a comment like, “I don’t want to talk about this right now. Let’s talk about something else.”
The holidays are a joyful and festive time that may lead to indulgences. If you’re trying to cut back on alcohol or abstain from drinking entirely, there are simple ways to embrace mindful drinking and even sobriety this holiday season and into the new year.