It’s that wonderful time of year again. But while the holidays should be enjoyable, for many of us, they can mean more spending, social obligations, family tensions, and the reminder of loved ones lost. Inevitably, this increased stress can result in more drinking or substance use than usual. There is no doubt that December can often be a month of excess, leaving many people feeling the need to reset in January and change their habits. When thinking about new year’s resolutions, better food, more exercise, healthy practices like meditation, and less drinking or substance use very often come to mind.
But what if we treated the holidays like a chance to recharge in order to start the new year off on a positive note? Making intentional choices and consuming substances more mindfully this holiday season is an excellent way to start off the new year feeling recharged.
If you’re reading this, perhaps you’ve already thought about making a change this year. Whatever your reasons for wanting to consume less, we have some tips to help you succeed.
It’s common to have mixed feelings about changing any habit (especially around consumption), so it’s important to get clear on the why behind your decision. Think about the pros and cons around your consumption, or the costs versus benefits. For example, if you use cannabis to relax after a long day, but it prevents you from pursuing social time or leads to doom-scrolling on social media, does the cost still outweigh the benefit?
The “cost” of any substance use is any negative effect consumption is having on your life, from your health, to your personal pursuits, your social life, your work, and otherwise. Some costs may be subtle (lower motivation, poor quality sleep, breaking the budget), and may become more pronounced.
Ironically, this is especially true when it comes to the most socially acceptable substance – alcohol – which turns out to be much worse than previously believed. Oftentimes we attribute the harms of alcohol to be risky binge drinking, driving under the influence, making questionable choices, and some not-so-great effects on health. Yet the links between alcohol and cancer, heart disease, stroke, depression, and anxiety – among others – are becoming harder to ignore. (Check out our resource on the proposed Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines to learn more about alcohol-related health risks.)
Write your reasons why you’re cutting back as a reminder during the holidays starting with “Why I’m cutting down on _______________”. For example:
Once you get your reasons why out on paper, you may find it helps to expand on them. For example, if you’re spending money that you’re regretting, what is it that you’re missing out on? Saving for vacation? Retirement? Regular massages? Or, if you’re struggling with anxiety and it’s worse when you drink (or, the day after), what effect is the anxiety having on your life? In your work? In your relationships?
Having a clear understanding of the reasons we want to cut down will help you stay motivated to say no when you’ve reached your limit, whatever it may be. Speaking of limits…
Create a measurable goal to help keep you motivated and accountable during the holiday season. The same targets might not work for everyone and depending on how much you currently consume, you may want to stagger your goals to help you achieve success in the longer term.
It’s like introducing exercise to your life. You might go for a run with a friend and decide, I can do this every day! Next thing you know you’re sore or you’ve pulled a muscle and lose the motivation to continue. As a result, every running coach advises you to build up slowly rather than throw yourself into it.
So set a realistic goal for the holidays, and once the new year arrives, you can decide whether to stick with it or step up your efforts. Here are some examples of goals to get you started:
A big part of achieving goals is just doing things differently and making a conscious interruption to our natural habits. This is a good chance to create new traditions. If you’re used to having a cocktail (or joint, or otherwise) in hand during the holidays, try making well-being your focus (which is a great answer to the question of why you’re drinking less.) Make a promise to not be the last person to leave the party and sign up for a morning workout class to keep you motivated.
If you’re feeling the pressure to drink, find activities that don’t revolve around alcohol. Hot chocolate and ice skating, pajama party games nights, cheesy holiday movie marathons with some of your new non-alcoholic beverages. This is also a good chance to ditch holiday traditions that no longer bring you joy, or that cause more stress than they’re worth. For instance, if tensions, emotions, and/or drinking tend to run high at family gatherings, it can be an act of radical self-care to say that you’re doing things differently this year and set a limit for how much time you’ll spend with family.
This year, why not do your best to make the holidays work for you, instead of the other way around? The holidays are about celebration, but it’s okay to set real limits on responsibilities and social commitments and carve out time to nourish yourself, whatever that looks like for you.
Maybe it’s allowing yourself to sleep in as many times as possible. Booking a massage. Meeting up with a close friend for a quiet walk in the woods. Taking naps. Ordering takeout. Pulling out your journal to reflect on the past year and write out some intentions for the coming year.
If you’re a parent or caregiver, it can be especially hard to carve out time for self-care, but it’s crucial to do so. If you’re someone who is chronically busy, you might find that the best self-care isn’t doing something, it’s doing nothing, and that’s okay!
Treating yourself with self-compassion and practicing self-care while making changes in your life is key to helping you reach your goals. And you don’t have to do it alone…
Cutting down on your substance use, setting limits on stressful situations, creating some new traditions, and focusing on self-care will make this possible. It can help to get some support while making these kinds of changes. You may find that you have friends or family members who are also looking to make changes, which can be great for motivation and accountability.
There are many great online resources to support you on the path of cutting back or quitting altogether. At ALAViDA, we provide a wide range of support options to help you change your relationship with alcohol and other substances. You can access coaching and support options through the TRAiL, plus a wide range of resources to help you reach your goals, including iCBT modules (internet-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), notifications and tracking tools, optional group coaching, and more.