With office parties, family gatherings and big nights out, our alcohol consumption can skyrocket over the Christmas period. The result? Starting the New Year poor, with a hangover and a whole lot of post-party fear.
What’s more, according to Dr Patrick Kennedy, consultant hepatologist and gastroenterologist at King Edward VII’s hospital, excessive Christmas drinking can have a major impact on health, “affecting the brain, the heart and our skin”.
But December doesn’t have to be this way. With a few simple cutbacks, you can enjoy the festivities in full while keeping your liver (and dignity) in tact.
Dr Sarah Jarvis, medical advisor at Drinkaware, says it’s not unusual to feel under pressure to drink more than usual throughout December.
“At Christmas, it seems, none of the usual rules apply. How often have we been told or said to someone else, ‘Oh go on, it’s Christmas’? We all want to fit in, and many people worry that if they don’t accept a drink with their friends or colleagues, they might look as if they’re being stand-offish,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“In addition, we are more likely to gather in groups, whether at someone’s home or at a pub, wine bar or restaurant.
“This brings the risk of everyone taking turns to buy rounds of drinks, which can increase the temptation to drink more. Likewise, at a party at someone’s home, the non-alcoholic drink options may be limited.”
How to cut down your drinking over the Christmas period
If you want to pace yourself over the festive season, discussing your motivations with friends, family and colleagues can help quash any awkward conversations around why you’re not drinking as much.
If you don’t want to go into detail, saying ‘I don’t want the hangover tomorrow’ can suffice.
Dr Jarvis says setting yourself goals and discussing these with loved ones is also key to staying on track.
“Think about how much you want to cut back, how often, and when you will review your progress,” she says.
To cut down your drinking during social gatherings, she recommends taking the following practical steps:
:: Alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks.
:: Downsize your drinks – if you’re a beer-drinker, make the units go further by drinking halves instead of pints. If you’re a wine-drinker then opt for a smaller glass.
:: Dinner only drinking – instead of having a drink the moment you’re home, decide to only have an alcoholic drink with dinner.
:: Have an alcohol-free day.
:: Track your drinks with the Drinkaware app.
How to tell when your drinking has gone too far
The Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines recommend men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week, spread over several days and with at least two alcohol free days each week.
Dr Jarvis says many people exceed this over the festive period, but you can ask yourself a few questions to determine whether your drinking has gone from festive fun to dangerous territory.
She explains that one of the most reliable questionnaires used to assess whether people have a problem with alcohol asks the following questions, among others:
:: Have you been unable to stop once you start drinking?
:: Have you failed to do what was normally expected from you because of drinking?
:: Have you had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking?
:: Have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because you had been drinking?
:: Have you or someone else been injured as the result of your drinking?
Dr Jarvis continues: “If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, and particularly if you’ve answered yes to more than one question, your drinking may well have gone too far.”
What benefits will people feel by cutting down on alcohol?
One of the most obvious benefits of cutting back on alcohol throughout December is that you’ll be able to enjoy each day without a pounding head.
“The short term benefits of cutting back on alcohol include brighter skin, feeling less tired and less irritable and being much more able to concentrate,” Dr Jarvis adds.
“Cutting down has been shown to improve the quality of sleep and for those people who drink to relieve stress, reducing alcohol can also have a positive effect on mental health and wellbeing.
“In the longer term, cutting back on alcohol also lowers the risk of serious diseases like cancer, liver disease, pancreatitis, diabetes and stroke.”