It’s that time of year when our diaries start to fill with Christmas parties and festive drinks. But how do you know if you’re overdoing it? We speak to Drink Aware expert, Andrew Russell, about why the festive season can mean you drink more and how to keep it in check
It’s no surprise that we drink more during the holidays – in fact, Brits make 165 million trips to bars, pubs and clubs in December. Not to mention the social pressure that comes with parties and gatherings – half of us drink alcohol over the Christmas period even when we don’t necessarily want to.
Drink Aware’s Andrew Russell explains how you can keep track of your drinking during the Christmas break, how you know if you’re drinking too much and what to do if you think you or someone else needs help.
1. Do we really drink that much more during the Christmas period?
“Yes we do. A study by Liverpool John Moores University looked at people’s drinking habits during special occasions like Christmas and found that we may end up drinking three times more than normal.
“According to a survey by Cancer Research UK, 25- to 34-year-olds drink 62 units of alcohol (that’s nearly six and a half bottles of wine, or 20 pints of beer) in the fortnight leading up to Christmas.
2. I might have a few more glasses than usual at the Christmas party, but is this binge drinking?
“The official definition of binge drinking is having over six units in a session if you’re a woman and over eight if you’re a man, which equates to about three glasses of wine for women and four for men.
“Binge drinking is riskier than drinking normally because your body can only process one unit of alcohol per hour, so drinking a lot of alcohol in a short space of time can significantly raise your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and can make you drunk very quickly. To put this in perspective, there are about 2.3 units in a standard glass of wine and 2.8 units in a pint of beer.
“By drinking more, especially during one evening, you make yourself more vulnerable – increasing your likelihood of accidents, memory loss and blackouts. Then there are the longer-term health risks such as damage to your liver, high blood pressure and stomach ulcers.”
3. How can I make sure I don’t drink too much this party season?
“If you’re celebrating at home, try dinner-only drinking – limit yourself to a glass of something with your meal rather than as soon as you start celebrating. Saving any alcohol you decide to have until later means you’re limiting how many hours you’re drinking.
“If you’re going out, you could order a lower ABV (alcohol by volume) option, such as 12% instead of 15% wine or lower options of beer and cider. Similarly, you could try smaller servings – opt for a small (175ml) glass rather than the large 250ml.
“Swapping in water or soft drinks in between your alcoholic drinks is always a good idea. This might encourage you to savour your drinks a little more and will help to keep you hydrated, which combats the horrible hangover the next day.
“Another option is to try the free Drink Aware app, which allows you to track how much you drink on a daily basis and rewards you for achieving targets like building up ‘no drinking days’.”
4. Can having a large meal before drinking help?
“It sounds obvious, but the measure of how drunk you are really only depends on how much you’ve drunk. Having some food might delay how quickly the alcohol enters your bloodstream, but it doesn’t change how drunk you become or the effects of alcohol on your body.”
5. Is it a good idea to have booze-free days during the Christmas period?
“Definitely. Our livers are quite resilient and can recover in three days. I’d recommend 2-3 consecutive days of non-drinking as this helps your system recover and can reset your tolerance, too. A simple ruling can make it easier to stick to – for example, ‘Tuesdays to Thursdays I don’t drink.’”
6. Are there any warning signs that I’m drinking too much?
“The visible signs of drinking too much don’t come until quite late in the day – for example, you can have liver damage without any visible symptoms. Alcohol can also affect blood pressure, so you might find yourself getting more out of breath.
“Your tolerance can be an indicator. If it takes more to get you drunk than a few years ago, this shows your tolerance has increased and is a warning sign.
“But really, it’s a matter of being honest with yourself. If you don’t feel you can go out and stop at one or two drinks, or if it’s difficult to consider not having a drink, it could be time to reassess your attitude to drinking and ask for help.”
7. Who can I turn to for help?
“There’s a wealth of advice on the Drink Aware website as well as tools you can use to assess your drinking, including an alcohol self-assessment, which can help determine whether you’re drinking too much.
“Drinkline runs a free, confidential helpline for people who are concerned about their drinking, or someone else’s. Or visit Addaction, a UK-wide treatment agency that helps people manage the effects of alcohol misuse.
“Alternatively, visit your GP who will be able to recommend the right treatment for you.”
For more information, visit the Drink Aware site.
Find out the truth behind the biggest drinking myths in our true or false guide.