Spirits on the Rise: Exploring the Seasonal Spike in Alcohol Intake and Its Impact on Wellbeing

The holiday season is upon us, so fasten your seatbelts!

The holiday season offers an opportunity to gather with those we love, rejoice in the many wonderful people and activities in our lives, and celebrate another year’s passing. At the same time, there are so many demands on our time, money, and patience. While we get to spend time with those cherished family and friends, we also spend time with those who can try our patience and wear us out! Some people are alone, disconnected, or estranged from their loved ones and find the holidays depressing and lonely.

One of the standard features of the holiday season is alcohol. Some people don’t or should not drink at all, while others are moderate consumers of alcohol. Some moderate drinkers will occasionally binge, and of course, there is a group who drink heavily. What is moderate drinking? According to the USDA, two drinks or less for men and one drink or less for women of legal drinking age represents moderate consumption. The next obvious question is, what constitutes a drink? According to the dietary guidelines, a “drink-equivalent “is 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof (40% alcohol by volume) distilled spirits, 12 ounces of five percent alcohol beer, or five fluid ounces of 12% alcohol wine.

During the holiday season, the type of drinking that occurs frequently is binge drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings the blood alcohol level to or over .08%, which is the legal limit for drunk driving. For the typical male, this occurs when he consumes five or more drinks; for females, four or more drinks in two hours. Binge drinking is most common for young adults, but older adults are not immune to the allure of having “one more drink!”

The consequences of drinking too much are apparent: your singing voice may temporarily sound better than it is, and your chance of meeting a police officer increases substantially! It is not uncommon for persons who have over-consumed or binged to fall and get hurt, find themselves in a conflictual situation(fight), or arrested by the police for drunk driving. At the other end of the spectrum, people occasionally find themselves in intimate or romantic situations with a person who is not their partner and who they barely know. There are occasions when binge drinking could lead to a blackout (no recollection of activities while drunk), or worse, they may suffer an alcohol overdose.

As we approach the holidays (or any special occasion for that matter), make a plan and a commitment regarding your alcohol consumption. The safest choice is not to drink. For some, that is a perfectly reasonable choice; for others, it is unimaginable! If you choose to drink, do so thoughtfully. It takes the average person in good health about an hour to process the alcohol from a standard drink. Consume standard drinks and time them so you do not drink too quickly. Drink water. Please remember that alcohol is absorbed from your stomach and moves into your bloodstream after you have stopped drinking, so you could get more inebriated even after you’ve stopped drinking, especially if you were drinking quickly or having a “shot” for the road!

Have a great holiday season, and if you drink, drink responsibly!

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