In the 1970s, American doctors coined a term for a phenomenon they frequently observed in hospitals after the festive season: “holiday cardiac syndrome.” This has become the term used to describe the rise in the number of healthy patients presenting to emergency rooms in January with alcohol-induced atrial fibrillation (irregular or too fast heartbeats), writes The Telegraph.
A Drinkaware study found that nearly two-thirds of adults drink more than usual over the winter holidays.
“Psychologically, we’ve been conditioned as a society, particularly in the UK, to associate alcohol with everything from celebrations to stress relief and socialising,” says Rosamund Dean, author of Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life.
But instead of helping us relax, too much alcohol can lead to exhaustion, lethargy and more anxiety, as well as increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer (including breast and liver) and weakening of the immune system. So if you’re keen to drink a little less in 2023, how can you do it?
Take two nights off a week – and buy smaller bottles
How much you want to drink will depend on your starting point, says alcohol counsellor, Julie Ward. Ward suggests new customers have at least two alcohol-free days a week, and also suggests putting ice in your wine on the days you drink. “This will dilute the strength, but still give it flavor,” she says. Another thing that can help – soda.
At home, Ward recommends buying wine in smaller bottles. Now 50, she cut down her drinking significantly 16 years ago after being diagnosed with bowel cancer. “I wish there were half bottles,” she says, “because I’ve always liked to finish the bottle.” Drinkaware also recommends reducing the size of your glasses (especially when you’re at home), which studies show helps you drink less.
Follow the 20 minute rule
Julie Ward’s ’20-minute rule’ – taking a 20-minute break after finishing one drink before buying or pouring your next – is another small tweak that can make a big difference. “When you’ve already had a few and you’re feeling lightheaded, waiting 20 minutes slows down the whole process, and the craving for more will often disappear or lessen,” she says. “You might even feel like you’ve had enough and call it quits for the night.”
You only drink to celebrate
“Now I only drink socially and I never drink alone,” says Rosamund Dean. “I never get home after a hard day at work, or finally put the kids to bed and have a glass of wine to try to relax. I don’t drink to cope with stress or negative emotions and instead drink just to celebrate. During the holidays though, celebrations and stress can overlap, but keep in mind that booze never helps a difficult situation. If I’m going to drink, it has to be in a fun environment.”
Know your triggers
According to Drinkaware, consider what your triggers are and how to overcome them. Is it about being in a bar? Or at home when wine time approaches? When you are out with certain friends? Or is it just so you don’t feel left out? Replay the event in your mind and try to identify any weak points and find solutions for them.
Keep yourself busy
Another useful thing to remember is to keep yourself busy. “If your trigger is sitting on the couch at 7pm, then book a fitness class for that time of day,” says a Drinkaware spokesperson. “If you don’t plan for these moments, it’s easy to fall into subconscious patterns. Yoga on a Friday night in December? Imagine that! But why not? Alternatively, plan something fun for the morning after a night out. If you know you have something to look forward to the next morning,” you don’t want to be hungover.
Be honest with yourself
“Be honest about the impact that drinking has on your life,” says Katie Scrafton, co-founder of Dip Club (@dipclubofficial), a community for people who like to have fun without alcohol. “If you’re spending more time recovering from a rough night than enjoying yourself, it might be time to take a break or at least cut back on your consumption. Understand that cutting down on alcohol is a process, and for some people it can be overnight, while for others it takes time.”
“Virtually everyone who drinks thinks they can’t do ‘sober socializing,'” says Dean. “But the first time you do it will give you the confidence to do it again. I have friends who don’t drink at all and don’t even think about it.”