Helping a Spouse Stop Binge Drinking During the Holidays

Binge drinking is a risky, harmful behavior, yet many people do it, especially during the holidays. If you have a spouse who tends to overindulge and you’re worried about seasonal events, there are things you can do to help them manage and control drinking. Make plans for how much to drink, talk about the risks of binge drinking, avoid certain parties if need be, and learn to cope with seasonal stress together, in healthy ways. If these steps don’t help, consider getting your partner some professional support.

While it’s normal to feel festive this time of year and even to indulge more than usual in both food and drink, it is not healthy to binge drink, especially regularly or frequently. If you have a partner who keeps drinking excessively over the holidays, there are steps you can take to help them change these harmful behaviors. Talk about the risks, make plans for managing drinking, hold them accountable, and come up with sober alternatives. If necessary, help your spouse get into a good treatment facility for the holiday season.

Binge drinking is not that unusual. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of six adults binge drinks at least four times per month. Each binge consists of an average of seven drinks. Adults between 18 and 34 are binge drinking the most. The CDC reports that binge drinking is any drinking that brings blood alcohol content up to 0.08, about five drinks for men or four drinks for women in a two hour period.

If your spouse drinks like this, they are putting their health at risk. Just bringing to their attention the harm this behavior can cause may be enough to help your spouse cut back. Binge drinking can cause, contribute to, or increase the risk for several health issues:

  • Several types of cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Memory difficulties

Additionally, there are several short-term problems that binge drinking can cause. Risky behaviors, for instance, can lead to accidents, injuries, violence, and unintended pregnancies. Intoxication can cause vomiting and choking, irregular heartbeats or even a heart attack, dangerously low blood sugar, and dehydration.

It’s important to be open and honest with your spouse about your concerns. Talk to them when they are sober and tell them how you want their habits to change. Be calm, patient, and non-judgmental, but also be firm.

Plan Ahead for Holiday Events and Set Limits

Sometimes, managing drinking is as easy as talking about it in advance and making a plan for drinking. If your spouse tends to overindulge during holiday parties and other activities, talk about it ahead of time and plan for each event.

Outline what you each expect of one another. Talk about who will be driving and how much, if any, that person will have to drink. If your spouse is not driving, discuss how much they want to have at the party. For events at bars or restaurants, bring cash only and just enough to buy a certain amount of drinks for both of you. Plan to drink slowly, sipping and savoring each drink rather than gulping it down. Have a non-alcoholic beverage in between each drink. And, if it’s a high-stakes event, such as a work party, consider abstaining completely.

Having these plans and limits in advance can help. Often your spouse may simply binge because they lose track and don’t think about how much they should or want to drink.

Find Sober Events to Celebrate the Holidays

Encountering alcohol is nearly impossible to avoid if you socialize at this time of year, but if your spouse struggles to control their drinking at events, look for some that are not booze-focused. For instance, outdoor activities like Christmas light walks and drives, caroling, or family events are less likely to have alcohol. If they do, it certainly isn’t the focus.

If you can get to more of these activities your spouse will have less time for the alcohol-fueled events and can still enjoy holiday festivities. Alternative activities and events are also great for keeping busy. Sometimes problem drinking results from boredom or habit, but if you stay busy together doing positive activities, there are fewer opportunities to drink.

Avoid Certain People and Parties if Necessary

If your spouse, or you, feel that they cannot control their drinking around certain people or at certain events, just avoid those situations. It’s better to fill your time with other activities than to risk the temptations and peer pressure they’ll feel at specific parties. Some people are triggers, too, pushing your partner to drink more. If it’s too hard to resist, just stay away.

Keep Alcohol Out of the House

Your partner’s drinking habit may be problematic mostly in social settings, but some binge drinkers do it at home as well. If your spouse tends to overindulge even at home when you’re having quiet nights in, consider keeping an alcohol-free home, at least until the holidays are over. This will reduce the temptation to drink more and to use alcohol to cope with stress. Restrict drinking to events and parties, with plans in place, and your partner’s overall drinking will be reduced.

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Work on Coping With Stress Together

The holiday season is prime time for added stress. This can trigger other mental health issues and negative moods, like anxiety and depression. Ultimately, it all adds up to an increased urge to drink. If your spouse’s drinking is sometimes caused or worsened by emotions, work on healthier coping strategies.

You can both benefit from managing stress at this time of year. Practicing these strategies together will help motivate your spouse to make healthier choices. Try things like exercising together, going for walks, cooking and eating healthy meals, meditation, yoga, going out with friends for coffee, or enjoying a hot cup of tea and a favorite TV show. Also try instant stress relievers during difficult moments when reaching for a drink seems like a good option: deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or cuddling with a pet.

Find Treatment Options

If your support and your spouse’s will to drink less fail to make real changes, they could have a more serious problem with drinking. Consider getting your partner professional support for a diagnosis and to manage drinking, over the holidays and in the future.

A residential treatment facility is a great option for anyone who simply can’t keep drinking under control, no matter how hard they try. Especially at this time of year, when there are so many obstacles to drinking less or staying sober, residential treatment can provide a safe space with structure and no temptations or risks.

At treatment, your partner will benefit from therapies and activities that provide them with the tools to manage drinking once home again, at any time of year. Exploring reasons for binge drinking, its harmful consequences, and strategies for cutting back will all provide tools for lasting, positive behavior changes with respect to alcohol.

Binge drinking is never a healthy behavior, even one time. But if your spouse drinks this way repeatedly, it can be a major health issue. Talk to your partner, address your concerns, and together make a plan for how to drink less. Join your spouse on this journey and by January you will both be healthier and happier.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Bay Area programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward lasting recovery.