Holidays and Moderation: Is That An Oxymoron?: An Interview with Master Addictions Counselor, Cyndi Turner
Author: Mary Reid
Published: November 8, 2022
Is moderate drinking possible over the holidays, or should I just wait until next year?
Moderation is possible any time of the year! You just need a commitment and a plan. If you are a regular drinker, there is always a holiday, celebration, or event where alcohol will be present. If you are questioning whether to try moderation, it sounds like you are already thinking about it. Now is the best time. You get to decide what you want it to look like.
How can “Moderation Management (MM)” help me to reduce drinking?
My go-to recommendation for those who want to reduce their drinking is Moderation Management. Their website www.moderation.org has a wealth of information, tools, and resources to have a better relationship with alcohol. There is a list of support meetings, Moderation Friendly therapists, and programs like Kickstart and Dryuary that offer additional support for people wanting to practice alcohol moderation.
The holidays are difficult for me. Everyone seems joyous, but I’m usually stressed or sad. How can I manage my emotions without over-drinking?
Alcohol should never be used to manage emotions—it is a depressant that interferes with neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that allow us to feel pleasure. Our bodies are designed to release certain chemicals that allow us to process stress, trauma, and grief. Drinking actually prolongs negative feelings and interrupts the body’s natural healing process.
One of best things a person can do to manage emotions is to talk with someone. Just the act of talking shifts the feeling from the emotional part of the brain to the logical part. Sharing with another person also helps us to feel less isolated, prevents ruminating, comes up with solutions, and gives us perspective. Reach out to a person before reaching for a drink.
During the holidays, I feel social pressure to drink and celebrate. Should I decline invitations and just stay home?
That is a great question. If the event is focused on alcohol and becoming intoxicated, that might be a good invitation to turn down. But make sure to plan something else you will enjoy. If you stay home and feel like you are missing out, you may wind up drinking alone and feeling more miserable.
If there is an event where you have over drank in the past, bring a support person who knows your moderation goal. You may be surprised that while some are drinking, they might only be sipping one or two drinks. An important moderation tool is to keep your BAC (blood alcohol concentration) below .055. This amounts to about one or two drinks where you may feel relaxed but not yet impaired. Some individuals wear the number of bracelets they plan on drinking and switch it from one arm to the next; some men keep track of their bottle tops.
I host holiday gatherings where alcohol is expected. I don’t want to disappoint my guests, but I’m tired of hangovers. How can I cope?
Being the host is actually a great way to practice moderation. You have more influence over what happens. Let guests know that you are cutting back but they are welcome to enjoy how they like. You can provide the food and non-alcoholic options and ask guests to BYOB (bring your own bottle). Be sure to send home any leftover alcohol. It can help to have someone help you clean up so you are not tempted. You can also make a signature mocktail that is holiday themed. I simply turn to the internet for ideas. Plan for something fun the early the next day that you would have otherwise not attended because you were nursing a hangover.
How do I know if I’m a candidate for moderation? I thought people either had a drinking problem or they didn’t. Isn’t abstinence the only way for over-drinkers like me?
There is over 50 years of research that shows that moderation is possible for many people. I designed the Alcohol Moderation Assessment to help individuals determine if they are a good candidate for moderation. Positive predictors include being willing to go through a period of abstinence, having a support system that you will discuss your goals with, and having alcohol-free activities.
What are the best strategies for enjoying the holidays in moderation?
My favorite strategies to enjoy the holidays in moderation are to:
- Have a plan of how many you will drink, keeping your BAC below .055. State your intention to a support person.
- Identify an alcoholic beverage that you truly enjoy.
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones like water or soda. This reduces the likelihood of a hangover.
- Pick a mocktail that feels festive to you. It is amazing what bubbles and fruit can do to make a drink feel fun without the consequences.
- Consume your calories in the treats that are only available at the holidays instead of drinking them.
- Don’t make alcohol the main focus of the event.
- Create a new tradition that is not centered around drinking.
- Wake up early the next day without feeling bloated and hungover.
Cyndi Turner, LCSW, LSATP, MAC is the Co-Founder & CEO of Insight Into Action Therapy and Insight Recovery Centers. She is a harm reduction therapist in the addiction field for three decades. She developed the Alcohol Moderation Assessment and is the author of The Clinician’s Guide to Alcohol Moderation: Alternative Methods and Management Techniques and Practicing Alcohol Moderation: A Comprehensive Workbook.