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Being Mindful of Holiday Drinking Habits

Some sobering advice for the silly season
This page added 25th November 2017

With the festive season now upon us, it can be quite easy to let the “eat, drink and be merry” mantra take over. Whether it’s at a work party, family dinner or watching the cricket on a hot day, many of us end up drinking far more alcohol than we should. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the festivities, it is important to be aware of how much you are consuming.

The Australian guidelines for alcohol consumption suggest drinking no more than two standard drinks a day to reduce your risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime, and no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion to minimize the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.

At Christmas time Australian’s average weekly alcohol intake triples, a survey by the organisation FebFast found, which encourages people to commit to an alcohol-free February. One-third of respondents were found to consume more than 10 standard drinks a week during the festive season. If this sounds excessive, that’s probably because it is. One-third of respondents also admitted that they thought they drank too much during December and January.

With this in mind, here are some tips to help you remain mindful of your drinking habits during the holiday season.

Drink smart

Most of us underestimate how much we really drink. There are no common glass sizes used in Australia, and one glass of wine is not equal to one standard drink. In fact, an average restaurant serving of wine is usually around 1.5 standard drinks. One can of high strength premixed spirits can contain up to 2.4 standard drinks, in what many would consider to be “just one drink”. Be aware of what makes up a standard drink, and know how many of them your body can handle.

Make sure to drink on a full stomach

This may sound obvious, and almost hard to avoid considering how much food surrounds us during the holidays, but drinking on a full stomach can make all the difference. When the stomach is full, this delays the alcohol absorption and keeps you sober for longer, with foods rich in fats and carbohydrates being the best for this. Don’t forget to drink lots of water to stay hydrated too.

Drink mindfully

While the title of this article is referring to simply being aware of your alcohol consumption, the practice of mindful drinking is also a great way to slow down and enjoy your beverage. Clinical psychologist Dr Nicola McCaffrey suggests using your senses to bring awareness to the experience of drinking, beginning right from the first sip. “Notice how your hand and arm work together to bring the glass perfectly to your lips”, McCaffrey says. “Notice any urge you have to drink the liquid straight down and any thoughts or expectations you have about how the experience will unfold. As you drink don’t swallow immediately, but take a moment to savour. Notice the temperature, texture and taste. And as you swallow try to follow that mouthful down through the throat and into your stomach.”

This exercise is intended to draw attention to the sensations and quality of what you are drinking, and overcome the habitual and socialized nature of drinking to focus on your wants and needs. This ultimately leads to you making more conscious choices, and often drinking less.

Set limits for yourself, and stick to them

Take what you are going to drink with you to functions, and drink only that. If you are headed to a restaurant, bar or party, set yourself a limit of drinks and stick to it. If you find self-regulating difficult, tell someone close to you of your threshold. Each individual is different, but keep the national guidelines in mind and recognize your own limits.

Find a substitute

This can be a substitute for alcohol, or a substitute for what you are using the alcohol for. For the former, take a non-alcoholic drink with you to your event and drink it out of a wine glass – it will feel just as fun! If you still want to have an alcoholic beverage, think about alternating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. If you are using alcohol as a bandaid for a larger problem, consider addressing this issue directly instead. If you find yourself anxious or stressed at this time, try practicing some relaxation techniques or having a chat with someone close to you. If you are feeling particularly lonely, try and push yourself to go to events, reconnect with old family and friends, volunteer your time or reach out to support services.

Don’t worry about others

Drinking is a large part of socializing and networking for many, and there can often be pressure from the situation or the people you are with to indulge. It can be easy enough to say no when these people are family or close friends, but some people find it difficult to refuse work colleagues or acquaintances groups. If you don’t want to drink or binge-drink, you could try using health-related excuses, volunteering to be the designated driver, saying you have an early start the next morning or buying a round of drinks. Recognise the social pressure, and try these strategies if you don’t feel comfortable saying no.

It’s okay to say “no”

On that note, it is okay to simply say no if you feel comfortable enough. A simple “no thanks” with a smile is just fine!

Remember what the holidays are all about

Although it is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the silly season, the holidays are meant to be a joyful time of year. They are an opportunity to spend time with loved ones, laugh, eat good food and create memories that will last a lifetime. For those who find the holidays to be too overwhelming or painful, view them as an opportunity to be kind to yourself and take a little time out for your own needs. If you find yourself overindulging on drinks, try to remind yourself of what really matters – do you want to remember the celebrations of 2017, or wake up with a nasty hangover the day after?

If you or someone you know needs support to reduce alcohol intake, contact your doctors or your local community health service.

Written by Courtney, ADAVIC Volunteer

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