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Alcohol and the holidays: avoiding a slippery slope

As we’re spending more time at home because of the coronavirus pandemic, alcohol consumption is on the rise.

More people are drinking alone or joining online drinking parties. Recently a friend told me that she was finding it increasingly difficult to manage stress. She said, “I find I am drinking more often in the evenings, and I go to Zoom parties where we are drinking on Zoom together just to feel some connection.”

If someone’s drinking is beginning to control their decisions or their time, it may be a precursor to a substance abuse issue or an alcohol issue. If you have it in your head that you need to pick up a drink to do something, that is an indication that something may be wrong.

Another example of alcohol controlling your time may be that you are working, maybe sitting in front of your computer, and you find yourself thinking about when the liquor store is going to close. You look at your watch at 6:30 p.m. and think, “I have to get out of here by 10 minutes to seven if I’m going to make it to that liquor store.”

Perhaps you begin fantasizing or thinking about the drink you are going to have when you get home. Many of us think about relaxing with a drink in our hand occasionally, but there could be cause for concern when the thoughts shift from periodically to daily. Once that thought is embedded in your mind and you can’t wait to get home and have that drink, alcohol affects your decisions and your time is now controlled by drinking.

When you begin thinking about drinking, even if you tell yourself it is just temporary to get you through a tough time, there is a risk. When we repeat behaviors over time, they become habits. I advised my friend that the length of time it takes probably varies for each person, but three months of drinking and then being able to turn it off would be a difficult task.

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Tips for avoiding the slippery slope

If you live alone, I recommend that you not have any alcohol in your home. It is hard once you start drinking alone because you don’t have any accountability. Share with somebody that cares about you that you want to be accountable because your drinking is becoming a concern.

You may confide in your spouse, a friend, or someone else you are comfortable going to for support. You may say something like, “I’m going a little overboard on this drinking. Would you mind if I called or texted when I’m sitting here, and I know I shouldn’t be drinking?” When we have support, we are more likely to have success.

We tend to be like those whom we spend time with the most. I tend to drink more when my roommate from college comes to visit. Likewise, there are some people that I abstain from drinking when we go out to dinner simply because they don’t drink. That is not to say that you should always hang around with people that don’t drink. It just means you may want to avoid situations that may impact your determination to consume less.

Family gatherings may be a challenge. If you know that there will be drinking at your family’s holiday gatherings, set boundaries for yourself in advance so that you won’t be tempted to join in or be embarrassed or mocked because you choose not to partake.

It is one thing to be sitting in your living room, drinking and never leaving the house. A real danger lies when you don’t plan to have a designated driver or use a service such as Uber when you are not at home. Even if you feel fine, never drink and drive. It sure beats killing somebody else or dying behind the wheel. Your life will not be better if you are dealing with a DUI or extra trauma and drama.

There is a demonstrated connection between alcohol dependence (i.e., alcoholism) and the chances of thinking suicidal thoughts, attempting suicide and committing suicide. Suicide and overdose rates are on the rise. Many people that are in recovery are relapsing. People that generally don’t drink are drinking a lot. When we face the reality of genuine challenges in our lives, we need to reduce our stress. If we need to have a plan in place, or we will be more likely to drink.

Be proactive

Now is a critical time to plan for self-care and build our resilience. Merely slowing down our breath and breathing more deeply can help. Many breathing techniques can be easily found on the internet. Create a list of things that you enjoy. These may include reading, talking to a friend, a warm bath, engaging in physical activity, baking and more. Sometimes it is difficult to remember what we enjoy. Connect with friends by asking them for their ideas and tips. Think back and remember the activities you enjoyed when you were younger.

If you realize that you cannot be accountable to yourself, find someone to hold you responsible. If you find yourself breaking the rules you have made for yourself, playing mind games, or hiding alcohol, know that there is help. Please see the list of resources below. You are not alone; support is available.

Al-Anon
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR)
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Alliance (SAMHSA)
Alcohol Rehab Help – Relapse Prevention
Alcohol Rehab Help – Alcohol Addiction Treatment & Therapy Options
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About the Author

Steve M. Grant was born in New York City and raised in Paramus, NJ. He attended Furman University on a partial baseball scholarship and served as baseball captain his junior and senior years. After college, he started the Catholic High School Baseball Team at St. Joseph’s High School in Greenville in 1994 and volunteered as head coach there for 12 years.

In March of 2012, Grant founded the Chris and Kelly’s HOPE Foundation and serves as its Executive Director. He has written a book about the loss of his two sons to accidental overdose and his journey from grief to gratitude. It is titled Don’t Forget Me and was published in February 2020.

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