How Easy Is It to Binge Drink During the Holidays?
Having a drink at a holiday party but don’t want to have too much?
Written by Kristen Fischer
December 23, 2019
Whether you want to loosen up at a work or family function or just really like a friend’s festive punch bowl concoction, it can be easy to consume too much alcohol without realizing it.
And drinking alcohol is associated with holiday celebrations.
“This creates the expectation that everyone will be drinking and that it is socially acceptable, or even expected, to do so,” said George F. Koob, PhD, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Many people throw around the term “binge drinking,” but it’s important to know what constitutes that, notes Ashley Vena, PhD, who heads the Clinical Addictions Research Laboratory at the University of Chicago.
Binge drinking is defined as having five drinks for men and four drinks for women in a 2-hour time frame.
That can raise blood alcohol levels to 0.08 percent, which is considered legally drunk in most U.S. states.
Why holiday boozing is a thing
While people may binge drink for various reasons during this time of year, people who have higher expectations about the beneficial effects of drinking are more likely to binge.
In other words, you may be more likely to consume too much if you think it will help you have more fun at a party. Other personality traits and age can also lead to a higher likelihood of binge drinking, Vena says.
“Social pressure mixed with a brain chemistry deficiency provides a perfect storm for binge drinking,” added Shoshana Bennett, PhD, a psychologist from California.
Research has indicated that having low levels of dopamine may put people at risk for binge drinking.
“If a larger number of drinks in a short period of time is needed in order to receive the same chemical effect that most people get with one drink, it can easily lead to binge drinking,” she added.
Harms of holiday drinking
Overindulging may only cause a bad hangover, but it can lead to risky decision making, vomiting, and alcohol poisoning — not to mention the effects of intoxicated behavior.
Frequent binge drinking is a risk factor of alcohol use disorder and can have detrimental effects on numerous organs, including the liver, pancreas, intestines, heart, and brain.
Binge drinking during the holidays has specifically been linked to a phenomenon known as “holiday heart syndrome,” which is a cardiac arrhythmia that occurs in people without a history of cardiovascular problems.
“Such cases are more prevalent during holidays as a result of increases in excessive alcohol consumption,” Koob said.
Prevent holiday binge drinking
Even if you don’t drink enough to be legally drunk, there are a few things you can do to avoid drinking too much:
Be mindful of your limits
Know how alcohol affects you, and be aware of any medications you’re taking that could increase the effects of alcohol.
While most of us are aware about the dangers of drinking too much, alcohol can lead to a distorted sense of confidence.
“People might truly believe they’re fine to drive, while the truth is they are not,” Bennett added. “Sometimes the self-awareness is clear, but embarrassment asking for a ride becomes a barrier.”
Make a plan
Monitor how much and how quickly you’re consuming your drinks. If you know you may drink more than you want to, decide at the beginning of a party how many drinks you’ll have and stick with the plan, Koob says.
A single serving of alcohol is defined as:
- 12 ounces of beer with 5 percent alcohol
- 5 ounces of wine with 12 percent alcohol
- 5 ounces of spirits with 40 percent alcohol
“It is common to accidentally overpour drinks, and the extra alcohol can derail your plans to keep consumption to a minimum,” Koob added.
Eat before or while you drink
This can help delay alcohol from entering your bloodstream.
“This will not prevent someone from becoming intoxicated, but it can slow the absorption of alcohol into the body and reduce the peak amount of alcohol that makes it to the brain,” Koob said.
Pace yourself with nonalcoholic drinks
Like having a drink in hand? Alternate alcoholic drinks with a glass of water or club soda, Vena suggests. This way, you can still drink but won’t be filling up on alcohol so quickly, and can hopefully avoid having too much of it.