Tips for ringing in the New Year responsibly
I've devoted my career to counseling people with alcohol and other substance addictions, but I believe there are ways for people without dependency issues to safely enjoy a few drinks now and then. For those who struggle with making safe decisions while drinking, there are ways to fully enjoy the festivities without a single drop of alcohol.
I'm also a realist. Despite the best intentions of sobriety or moderation, many of us — particularly on a high pressure-to-party night like New Year's Eve — may find ourselves over-indulging or struggling with temptation. This column is for anyone who wants a few helpful tips on how to stay safe, social and sober through any occasion.
Be honest with yourself
Even if you consider yourself a responsible, moderate drinker, chances are you remember a few times in your life when you drank more than you should have; don't kid yourself into thinking you're older and wiser now and immune to impulse, especially once your inhibitions are lowered by alcohol.
If you've ever wondered if you had a drinking problem, chances are you do, or are at greater risk for developing one. In addictions counseling, we use a time-proven assessment tool that asks four simple questions:
1. Have you ever felt you needed to cut down on your drinking?
2. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
3. Have you ever felt guilty about drinking?
4. Have you ever felt you needed a drink first thing in the morning (an eye-opener) to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
A "yes" answer to any two of those questions is an indicator of alcoholism that should be further examined.
If you don't have a history of alcohol abuse, you still need to be mindful that it's a powerful, deceiving substance, blurring judgment when it's needed most. Make sure you take time for self-care, get enough rest and eat prior to before heading out. Know what kind of party you're going to, particularly whether non-alcoholic options will be available. Have a designated driver — and that must be someone who does not drink, not the "one" who had the fewest drinks and appears "ok."
If you're in recovery or have a drinking problem, be aware that going to a party where alcohol is served may trigger temptations. Know the crowd; don't go to parties that could jeopardize your recovery. Even if you think you're ready, bring a friend for support. Have an exit strategy, a way to safely leave when you must.
Set your limit and stick to it
If you're able to drink responsibly, you should aim to keep your blood alcohol content below 0.05. For men, that means no more than two standard drinks in the first hour and one per hour thereafter — with a limit of four drinks for an occasion lasting four hours or more. For women, it means no more than one standard drink per hour and a limit of three drinks over the same four-plus hours. A standard drink is a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce wine or a drink with 1.5 ounces of liquor. Pace yourself and keep track of quantity and time. Make every other drink water or another non-alcoholic choice. Eat food, spend time socializing. If you're a recovering alcoholic, use all of your learned strategies to maintain your sobriety.
Together with everyone else at the party, you can ring in 2017 with celebration and pride.
Shannon R. McCarthy, LADC, is Director of Behavioral Sciences/Substance Abuse at Berkshire Health Systems
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