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A Little Too Much Christmas Cheer?

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Guest blogger Christina Montoya Fiedler: Everyone indulges during the holidays -- some more than others. We all know someone who inevitably has one too many spiked eggnogs and creates lasting holiday memories that would be better left forgotten. But where does one draw the line between "having fun" and too much holiday drinking?

family christmas party
Dr. Ann Miller, PhD, executive director of Caron Texas, a nonprofit addiction treatment center offering drug and alcohol rehab, supplied us with a few holiday guidelines and some pointers on how to cope.

Key Facts about Alcohol and Family Parties
Parents need to remember that their actions in relation to drinking provide a powerful example to their children. Alcohol fuels a number of "bad behaviors" at family holiday parties, according to a 2008 study commissioned by Caron Treatment Centers and conducted by Harris Interactive. Among the findings:
  • Fifty-six percent of those who attend family holiday parties reported that a family member exhibited inappropriate behavior after consuming too much alcohol at a family holiday party.
  • Among those who observed inappropriate behavior at family holiday parties by individuals who were under the influence of alcohol:
  • Fifty-seven percent observed a family member starting a family argument.
  • Forty-four percent observed a family member using excessive profanity. 
  • Forty-three percent observed a family member "falling down" or "becoming clumsy."
  • Thirty-three percent observed a family member become overly aggressive.
Adult Drinking Recommendations
According to medical experts at Caron, one drink could make someone severely impaired even if their blood alcohol is technically legal. If a person consumes one drink every hour, he might not be legally intoxicated, but it still may be enough to trigger behavior he would otherwise not engage in.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) classifies low-risk drinking as no more than four alcoholic drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week for men, and no more than three alcoholic drinks on any single day and no more than seven drinks per week for women. (Visit the NIAAA's website for more information and guidelines on drinking.)

Throwing a Holiday Party That's Not about the Alcohol
The experts at Caron encourage hosts to plan a festive occasion that doesn't center on alcohol and drinking. Here are five tips for doing so:
  • Get creative. Festive drinks can be "dry." Look to nonalcoholic drinks such as fruit juices, ice teas and lemonades as a way to encourage healthy habits.
  • Take drinking out of the party games. Group games such as Taboo, Charades and Pictionary will keep people in stitches -- and sober.
  • Stimulate conversation. Help keep the chatter flowing by actively making introductions and introducing fun topics.
  • Don't make the bar take center stage. Place beautifully prepared and presented food and flowers at the center of the table and move the alcohol to the back of the room. Make the juice bar a colorful center of attention.
  • Be safe. For guests who do drink, make sure that they and their loved ones have a safe way home, or keep taxi numbers on hand to prevent them from driving under the influence.
Explaining Inappropriate Behavior to Children
According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, one in four children are impacted by a loved one's substance abuse before they reach age 18. If your children witness alcoholic behavior:
  • Explain to them that they aren't alone. Many other children have a loved one who struggles with alcohol/drug abuse and dependence.
  • Start a conversation. Encourage children to share how they are feeling. Finding a trusted adult to talk to about their feelings and experiences will help them "normalize" their situation. For younger children, create some type of fun game or activity as a way to encourage them to talk about their feelings.
  • Don't vilify the family member. Explain that their loved one is not a bad person, but rather that they may display unhealthy behavior when they are using drugs or alcohol. For younger children, ask them to draw a picture of a time when they were sick. Ask them about their symptoms (headache, stomachache, dizziness, vomiting, sneezing, etc.). Explain that they didn't decide to be sick. Similarly, point out that their loved one didn't decide to abuse alcohol/drugs or become an addict. You can't see the actual sickness or disease on a person, but you can see the symptoms.
  • Make it a teachable moment. Talk about how addiction runs in families like heart disease does, and explain that they may be more likely to have addiction issues than those whose families don't have that history.
  • Establish a safety plan with the child. Discuss various scenarios that the child has already been in or could potentially be placed in and determine the best plan to keep the child safe. Example: If the child comes home to find their loved one passed out, what should they do? Teach them to call 911, call a trusted adult, pre-program a phone to use in an emergency, etc. Also, reassure the child that they do not need to get into a car being driven by a drunk adult.
Checking In With Your College Student
Since college kids are home for holiday break, it's the perfect time to check in with them about their social habits and emotional health. To do it:
  • Refresh their memory. Take this opportunity to remind them about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol. Brainstorm ways they can avoid getting caught up in this scene. Remind them of your expectations of them, whether they are home or at college.
  • Remind your children that drinking alcohol under the age of 21 is illegal. If your college student is over the age of 21 or attending parties with friends over the age of 21, stress that they should never to get into a car being driven by someone who has been drinking.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Parents who have an open dialogue about drugs and alcohol with their children and who send clear messages regarding their expectations on this issue have children who make better choices.
  • Reassure them. It sounds obvious, but it is important to remind them that you are always there for them -- no matter what. Tell them they should reach out to you anytime they need help, or if they simply need to hear how important they are to you.
Confronting the Culprit
How do you talk to an alcoholic loved one about his or her drinking? Here are some tips:
  • Talk openly and honestly. Express your love and concern, but don't judge or accuse. It's important to talk about how much you care for your loved one and how you want to help them get well. Addiction is a disease, and your loved one is sick. You wouldn't approach someone who has diabetes with shame or guilt, so you shouldn't treat your addicted loved one that way.
  • Consider using a third party. If your loved one is in denial or not responding to your initial attempts at conversation, it may be helpful to consult a professional interventionist. A person in this role can make recommendations about how to best approach your loved one about his or her substance abuse issues for optimal results.
  • Find support for yourself. Many people who have a loved one struggling with substance abuse or addiction focus entirely on their loved one and neglect their own emotional health. It's critical that as part of addressing your family member's issue you also get help for yourself. Facilities such as Caron offer a five-day family-education program that is free for those with loved ones attending the program.
  • Be prepared. If your loved one is ready for help, it's best to have a few options in place. You may want to have a psychologist on deck prepared to do a behavioral assessment to determine the most appropriate next steps for treatment. You may want to locate a few area 12-step meetings so they have a safe place to go immediately for support. Additionally, it may be helpful to find out what their insurance provider supports, or what scholarship options may be available for treatment.
  • Create a safe holiday space. If you are really concerned about a loved one's drinking during the holidays, consider eliminating alcohol from your festivities. Instead, serve refreshing blends of lemonade, ice tea and juice -- and keep the focus on family.

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3 comments so far | Post a comment now
Perfecting Parenthood December 21, 2010, 6:25 PM

Hmm, I’ve very rarely seen those kinds of inappropriate behaviours. If it’s uncomfortable at all it’s usually “too friendly” or “became too smart and wanted to explain too many things” to us!

Lamar Galathe March 13, 2011, 3:07 PM

sublime entry you’ve carry

Probate San Antonio March 23, 2011, 12:26 PM

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