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Apex Recovery Blog

Holiday Spirits: A look at Holiday Time drinking (and ways to cope)

a person in a mountain range

The end of December brings America alive. Christmas is coming, a new year is next, and cheeriness is running on high. The holidays are a time for family and friends, for love and for togetherness, for giving (and for hopefully getting) some pretty cool stuff. For many, the holidays are also a time of indulgence – overspending, overeating, and overdrinking. When it’s just egg nog, no big deal… just make a resolution to work out more! It’s when the egg nog gets spiked, so to speak, that trouble can start. Not to scare you, but starting Christmas Eve and ending on New Year’s Day, the number of DUIs increases by 33% on average. Furthermore, 41% of accidents on Christmas are alcohol-related, and 58% of them on New Year’s. This is much higher than average daily percentage of alcohol-related crashes, which is 28%. Now to scare you, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), nearly half of all car accident fatalities during that holiday week involve drunken drivers. This is not an article on drunk driving. This is not just a regurgitation of statistics, although many will be cited. This article takes a look at holiday-time alcohol consumption, brings awareness to how dangerous Christmastime binge drinking can be, and offers a little background on Alcoholics Anonymous, the model example of the many free support groups that can further assist you in having a safe holiday.

The holidays bring a spike in problematic drinking.

Although this year’s Thanksgiving has come and gone at the time of this writing, the serious increase in national binge drinking actually starts the day before turkey day, which has come to be called ‘blackout Wednesday’. Many bars and alcohol-serving establishments say they receive more business the day before Thanksgiving than on St. Patrick’s Day, or even New Year’s Eve, according to PR Newswire. High school friends who have since moved on to live their lives are again reunited, possibly spurring on this day of binge drinking. The Harris Interactive Survey recently took a poll regarding American holiday drinking. The results are eye-opening to say the least. Nearly one in six people admit to drinking more than they usually do during the holiday season. Nearly one in five say they’ve felt pressured to drink during the holidays. One in two people say their family’s holiday get-together involves alcohol directly. Most shocking of all, virtually everyone polled (96%) either admitted to being hungover for work after a holiday party the night before, or having known someone who was. According to Scram Systems, makers of some of the top-of-the-line ignition interlock devices, half of those who already have a legal history of drunken driving consume more alcohol than normal during the holiday. (More than nine out of ten DUI offenders said having an ignition interlock device saved their lives). The holidays are meant to be fun, and there are ways to drink responsibly. We hope what we’ve discussed so far will give you reason to do so.

We drive (drunk) more during the holidays.

It’s an expensive time of year, what with dinners and gifts and travel expenses, and driving as opposed to any other form of transportation definitely saves some dollars. Driving sober saves lives. According to AAA (the Automobile Association of America), an astounding 48.7 million Americans drove at least fifty miles last year for Thanksgiving. (Over 89% considered the drive to be a road trip.) The number of those who drove such distances for Christmas surely is not far behind. Last year actually set a record for the number of individual holiday drivers on the road between the 23rd of December and the 3rd of January: 103 million. The highways are quite crammed, and in many areas of the country, snow is falling, making for even more hazardous conditions. Also according to AAA, over the course of a year, one in eight drivers who are users of alcohol drive their vehicles with what they believe to be a blood alcohol content over 0.08, the legal limit. That means one in eight admitted to it in a survey. So, in reality, this writer bets everything in the bank that in reality, the number is more like 2 or 3. For the sake of the benefit of the doubt, even if the number is 2, this means of the 103 million drivers on the road during the holidays, well over three million of them are drunk. Okay, there are just a few more stats courtesy of AAA, but stats paint a picture in a unique way, offering insight from a bird’s eye view. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, approximately 25,000 will be injured in an alcohol-related car crash, and another 1,200 will perish. This is about three times the average for this period of time, the highest spike all year.

Control your holiday drinking. Here’s one way how.

About 24 million Americans consume alcohol with some regularity. The number of Americans that consume alcohol during the holidays is probably somewhere in the range of 30 million. The NIAAA says just over 15 million Americans have AUD, or alcohol use disorder, commonly known as alcoholism. Half of those drinking during the holidays are alcoholics. If you find yourself among them and you want to be safe this year, or even if you’re not an alcoholic but you want to educate yourself on safe holiday drinking, an excellent place to start is Alcoholics Anonymous. Disclaimer: Alcoholics Anonymous and similar self-help groups are not substitutes for alcohol abuse treatment in a professional facility. If you feel you have a drinking problem, absolutely check into a rehab as soon as possible. Before the stock market crash of 1929, Bill Wilson made himself quite a wealthy man from Wall Street trading. By 1934, Wilson drank it all away. His severe alcoholism cost him his law school degree and his marriage, and then nearly his life. Hospitalized in New York City’s Towns Hospital, his doctor suggested to him that alcoholism was a disease, not a lack of willpower. Through some now outdated therapies, Wilson stopped drinking successfully. Then he heard his calling. Wilson was a longtime member of the Oxford Group, a Christian missionary group, searching their philosophies for an answer to his drinking problem. At their meetings, still an active alcoholic but still seeking a cure, Wilson decided to make it his life’s goal to save as many other alcoholics from the disease that he could. In Akron, Ohio, on a business trip, Wilson found himself tempted to drink, and wanted to speak with a fellow alcoholic. Asking around, he was introduced to Dr. Bob Smith. Henrietta Sieberling was also an Oxford Group member, and was the person who Bill Wilson asked about talking to an alcoholic. Sieberling was at the time attempting to help someone with severe alcoholism, a medical doctor named Bob Smith, who for seventeen years had been getting extremely drunk every single night. Sieberling arranged a meeting between Dr. Smith and Wilson, which reportedly lasted six hours. Wilson actually moved into Dr. Smith’s home, living alongside the doctor and his wife. Wilson was able to cure Dr. Smith of his alcoholism, and the two men set out to develop one uniform program that could help people with any and all levels of alcoholism. It was 1935 when what would become Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) began. Since then, millions upon millions of people have attended and benefitted from the free service. If you are an alcoholic, a problem drinker, or simply a concerned social drinker, call us today. How do I know if I have an alcohol use disorder? Alcoholism, AKA alcohol dependence, AKA alcohol use disorder, is a disease. However, the definition is not exactly clear cut. This is unique. Nobody can be on the fence with diabetes; you either have it or you don’t. Such is not the case with alcoholism. However, as a general rule of thumb, there are four components to the disease of alcoholism.

  1. Craving – Every drinker on every level experiences a craving for an adult beverage. If you experience this craving often, and the craving is strong, that is a sign of alcoholism. If you crave alcohol a few times a year, and even then could live without it, chances are you are not an alcoholic.
  2. Loss of Control – You may remember the longtime slogan for Pringles potato chips: “Once you pop, you can’t stop.” If this is how you feel about alcoholic beverages, there’s good chance alcoholism has crept in. Alcoholics are either literally unable to control, or have an extremely hard time controlling their consumption. Picture yourself at an open bar with no drink limits. Do you have a few and enjoy the rest of whatever the night has to offer, or do you find yourself drinking as many drinks as you can in order to achieve maximum drunkenness?
  3. Dependence – Being dependent on something is when the desire crosses over from a craving to a need. If someone exhibits withdrawal symptoms when sober from alcohol, it’s safe to say that someone is an alcoholic. Symptoms commonly associated with alcohol withdrawal include but are not limited to shaking, sweating, agitation, nervousness, nausea/vomiting, increased heart rate, and in rare cases delirium tremens which can be fatal.
  4. Tolerance – A tolerance to a substance is defined as the need for more and more quantity of that substance in order to achieve the desired effect. The first time someone gets drunk, it usually only takes one or two drinks. If you find yourself needing to drink six, twelve, maybe even more beers than that just to feel your desired level of intoxication, you, my friend, have an alcohol tolerance, and that is a surefire sign of alcoholism.

There is a commonly accepted AUD quiz. Here it is.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) offers a free online self-assessment as to whether or not you have alcohol use disorder. There are far too many questions to list here. All of the questions are important and play their own role, but we have determined there are nine pertinent questions. Reworded, they follow. The more answers of ‘yes’ you have to the following nine questions, the more likely you have alcoholism.

  1. Do you sometimes find yourself drinking more or for longer than originally desired?
  2. Do you sometimes want to cut back on alcohol intake but fail to?
  3. Do you need more time than average to recuperate from a night of drinking?
  4. Do you often feel a strong urge to drink?
  5. Does drinking ever interfere with your personal life, i.e. work or family?
  6. Do you sometimes find yourself giving up on or avoiding your hobbies in order to drink?
  7. Do you ever find yourself in dangerous or hostile situations due to drinking?
  8. Do you consistently need more alcohol to feel drunk?
  9. Do you ever experience any alcohol withdrawal symptoms when not drinking?

In Conclusion

Holidays are meant to be fun, family-filled, and ultimately safe. Contribute to safety this year and drink responsibly, if you drink at all. If you need help, then as stated, AA is not meant to be a substitute for rehab. If your drinking is excessive, and you question whether or not you’re an alcoholic, chances are you are. AA is, however, a wonderful place for recovering addicts to join and fight the good fight together. Good luck, and happy holidays.

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