Holiday Alcohol Consumption and Your Health

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Dr. Nina Radcliff

Alcohol plays a big role in holiday festivities as friends, family and associates gather. 

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States reported recently that a quarter of the $49-billion-a-year distilled spirits industry’s profits come between Thanksgiving and the New Year holidays. In fact, during holidays, even people who are moderate consumers of alcohol, tend to increase their drinking rates. And the study that discovered this also noted that most Americans have no idea what high-risk drinking looks like, which lulls them into a false sense of security regarding their limits.

Alcohol’s impact on your body starts from the moment you take your first sip. And drinking – on a single occasion or, over time – can take a toll on your overall health and well-being. Alcohol is a colossal health issue that impacts the body from head to toe:

  • Brain damage, stroke, Alzheimer’s dementia, slurred speech, behavior changes, poor judgment issues, impaired coordination and balance that can result in injuries, damage to the central nervous system (numbness, tingling sensations in the hands and feet)
  • High blood pressure, alcoholic cardiomyopathy (alcohol weakens and thins the heart muscles), and sudden cardiac death
  • Increased lung infections
  • Stomach distress (increased bloating, gas, ulcers), bouts of diarrhea, malabsorption of vitamins and minerals, inability to assess appetite and hunger which can lead to malnourishment, pancreatitis, liver damage
  • Increased cancer risks
  • Difficulty fighting off infections 
  • Weak or thinning bones, osteoporosis, and poor healing of fractures  
  • Dependence (physical and emotional)
  • Accidental serious injury or, death and increased risk of violence, including sexual assault 
  • Weight gain  
  • Problems in an unborn child (learning difficulties, long-term health issues, increased emotional problems, physical development abnormalities) 

Holiday Alcohol Use: Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day accounts for some of the highest incidents of binge drinking—generally defined as 4 or more drinks within 2 hours for women and 5 or more drinks within 2 hours for men. Other key understandings to know:

  • Examples of one drink include: 12 fluid ounces of beer; 5 fluid ounces of wine; and 1.5 fluid ounces of distilled spirits (80 proof). 
  • Occasional drinking: One drink or less per week
  • Low-volume: More than 1 per week but less than 2 per day
  • Moderate: Up to 1 drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to 2 drinks a day for men 65 and younger
  • Heavy/high-volume: Generally defined as more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks a week for women and men older 65, and more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks a week for men age 65 and younger
  • Excessive: Heavy or high-volume drinking, binge drinking, any alcohol use by people under 21 years of age (minimum legal drinking age), and any alcohol use by pregnant women.

Cut/Moderate Alcohol Consumption During the Holidays: There are many benefits to cutting down or cutting out alcohol. Taking a break from alcohol is one of the best things you can do for your health. Whether you’re thinking about drinking less in an average week or feeling like you don’t want to drink alcohol at all anymore, there are great reasons to make the choice that is right for you. 

If you decide not to cut out alcohol entirely right now, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends the following low-risk weekly guidelines:

  • Healthy women of all ages and healthy men 65 and older: Less than 7 drinks per week and no more than 3 drinks a day  
  • Healthy men under 65 years of age:  Less than 14 drinks per week and no more than 4 drinks in one day

Holiday Tips: A combination of good cheer and abundant alcohol can take a serious toll. 

  • Set goals before attending a gathering (and have an exit or stop plan)
  • Always consider any medications you are taking that could increase the effects of alcohol (e.g., pain relievers, anxiety meds)
  • Eat before or while you drink to slow down the speed in which alcohol enters the bloodstream (reduce the peak amount of alcohol that makes it to the brain)
  • Drink water between alcoholic drinks. Doing so, helps to keep you hydrated and also slows down drinking. 
  • Be mindful and savor your drink by sipping slowly
  • Drink a fun, tasty, non-alcoholic drink like sparkling water, hot chocolate, apple cider, or non-alcoholic beer.
  • Avoid drinks with unknown alcohol content or mixing alcohol with energy drinks. When alcohol is mixed with caffeine, the caffeine can mask the depressant effects of alcohol, making drinkers feel more alert and drink more than they realize. 

Alcohol is everywhere this time of year, making it easy for even casual drinking to escalate into problem drinking. Steer clear of the lure and holiday triggers! Stay safe and healthy!!

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.

Author Profile

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.