I work with people in all different places in their relationship with alcohol, but I’ve found one thing almost all of them have in common: Whether someone is perfectly content with their relationship with alcohol, trying to cut down on drinking, or has chosen the path of abstinence, the holiday season often makes alcohol more relevant.
Many people find themselves either drinking more or thinking more about alcohol. In fact, a quarter of the distilled spirits industry’s profit comes from the month between Thanksgiving and the New Year. The question, then, is, why does alcohol take up so much space during this joyous time of the year?
Alcohol Has Become Part of Holiday Celebration
In recent years, alcohol has more and more become an “essential” part of holiday celebrations. Although certain drinks may have been a part of the holiday tradition for centuries, many festival drinks have become a part of the celebration as a result of the billions-dollars-investment of big alcohol companies.
Alcohol commercials put in great effort and capital to link their brand image with a holiday celebration. Take a look at any alcohol advertisement during the holidays—many of them have so much Christmas imagery they could almost burst. Americans are receiving powerful messaging every day that could make us believe that alcohol provides some essential ingredient for the holiday spirit.
Peer Pressure in a Culture Where “Everyone” Drinks
On top of the powerful influence of alcohol commercials, peer pressure is yet another force that pushes holiday alcohol consumption to its new height.
We live in a society where consuming alcohol is socially approved and encouraged. Not drinking often requires courage and the ability to stand one’s ground. If you have ever tried to turn down an alcoholic drink without an excuse at a party, chances are you are familiar with the questioning looks on others’ faces. The overwhelming social pressure poses an additional challenge for people who want to stay away from alcohol.
Alcohol as a “Stress Reliever.”
The stress related to holiday time is another reason people fantasize about or gulp down more liquor this time of the year. Social gatherings and family reunions leave many people feeling tense and exhausted. Many people count on the wine to help them get through the evening.
Alcohol’s reputation as a “stress reliever” holds a certain degree of truth. As a depressant and a sedative, alcohol calms our nervous system and temporarily takes our minds off the trouble. However, its stress-relieving effect is short-lived at best and counterproductive at worst. While a little drinking may indeed help a person take the edge off, overdrinking can easily become a source of stress. Loss of memory, inappropriate comments, and drunk confrontations cause more stress the next day and in future gatherings.
Imagine how amazing it would be if drinking a bottle of wine would take care of your holiday bills. That would make alcohol a magic juice, indeed. Yet in reality, you will wake up still facing the same bill, and sometimes even another charge or two from your drunk shopping. At the end of the day, alcohol never addresses the source of our stress.
The Holiday Blues and an Alcohol “Remedy”
In one NAMI survey, 64 percent of participants said that holidays worsen their mental health symptoms. On top of the increased stress-related anxiety, sadness, loneliness, a sense of loss, and deep longings are common during the holidays. Those feelings can be difficult to stay with, and alcohol often provides temporary relief to numb the agony.
Yet alcohol never truly takes away the pain. Using alcohol to numb the emotional agony is arguably like banging one’s head so hard on the wall to the point of passing out so that one can stop feeling the bleeding wound on their leg.
People drink more alcohol during the holidays for many reasons—celebrating, fitting in, and coping. There is nothing wrong with the desire for joy, belonging, and relieving pain and stress.
However, excessive drinking during the holidays can damage our health, injure relationships, and, in the worse case, take lives. Having a set of strategies to moderate drinking during this time of year is crucial. (You can find more sober curiosity tips on my website .)
If you find yourself turning to alcohol during the holiday, struggling to keep the consumption at a healthy level, or experiencing unmanageable cravings, remember help is available, and you don’t have to go through it alone.