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Holiday Drinking: Let’s Keep it Safe!

The holiday season is here, and over the next several weeks you’ll be invited to any number of gatherings. Chances are good that alcohol will be flowing pretty freely at these events. So even if you don’t normally indulge, you’ll probably find yourself with a drink in your hand on more than one occasion.

The fact is, more people overindulge in alcoholic beverages during the winter holidays than at any other time of the year. And it’s not hard to find yourself more than a little “tipsy” before you realize you’ve sipped one drink too many.

That’s because, depending on your weight, liver size and health, your body can only metabolize so much alcohol each hour. But when it catches up with you, it can hit like a sledgehammer.

The next morning is even worse. The pounding head, sensitivity to light, upset stomach and other lingering effects make you wish you’d avoided the festivities altogether.

Well, there’s no need for that. The holidays are truly a time to celebrate. So let’s talk about some safe alcohol practices that can keep you out of harm’s way during this festive time of year.

Is there any such thing as “Healthy” Liquor?

My patients often ask me which type of alcohol is the “healthiest.” And they’re always disappointed in my answer.

There is no “healthy” alcohol. However, some types of alcohol may be slightly “healthier” than others.

For example, wine is widely recognized for its heart-healthy benefits. This is attributed to a potent antioxidant called resveratrol that is found in red wine. In addition to safeguarding your heart, this super-nutrient protects your mitochondria, reduces inflammation and boosts metabolism.

Unfortunately, it would take multiple bottles of wine to equal a single capsule of resveratrol. So you really can’t expect to get the same health benefits from drinking wine.

In the meantime, clear liquors are likely a healthier alternative than those that are dark. This is because darker alcohols like brandy, bourbon, whiskey and even beer contain high concentrations of something called congeners.

These are toxic byproducts (methanol, histamines, acetone, etc.) produced during the fermentation process. When you drink liquor with a high congener content, you’re more likely to experience more severe hangover symptoms.

So, while clear spirits such as gin, rum and vodka can cause also cause a hangover if you drink too much of them, it will probably be less brutal.

And in many cases, the mixers are just as bad for you as the alcohol itself. They’re loaded with syrupy sugars, artificial flavors, color additives and other decidedly unhealthy ingredients.

At the same time, it’s extremely easy to over consume alcoholic drinks that are mixed with sweet-tasting soft drinks, juices and pre-made mixes. After all, if it tastes like fruit punch, you’ll probably gulp it down like fruit punch.

Your best bet?

When consumed in moderation, red wine is a relatively safe choice. Light beers can also be pretty harmless since they have such a low alcohol content. However, wine and beer are both acquired tastes. Not everyone likes them.

If that’s the case, stick with a clear alcohol. But avoid doing shots. And try not to blend them with sugary mixes. Instead, mix a shot with a tall glass of sparkling water. Then add a slice of lime, orange, kiwi or watermelon for flavor.

3 Tips to Avoid getting Drunk during the Holidays

In addition to choosing a drink that’s not horribly bad for you, it’s very likely you don’t want to accidentally find yourself in a drunken state. There are measures you can take to avoid this.

Never drink on an empty stomach. Filling your stomach with healthy proteins, fats and plant-based carbohydrates slows down the absorption process. This helps to buffer the rapid effect of alcohol on your system. So always eat a good meal prior to heading out to a holiday party.

Stay hydrated. Excess alcohol consumption dehydrates the body. This makes it a good idea to follow each alcoholic drink with at least 8 ounces of water. Sixteen ounces is even better. It will give you more time to metabolize the liquor you’ve already ingested and get it out of your system.

Pace yourself. Tasty beverages with cute holiday names like Rudolph’s Tipsy Spritzer and Santa Shot Cocktails are as easy to slug down as a bottle of Gatorade. The only difference? These seasonal drinks aren’t just loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients. They also have exceptionally high alcohol content. So sip them slowly, and always remember this…

“Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.” — G.K. Chesterton


Alcohol Alert: Alcohol Metabolism. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. No. 35, PH 371.

Smoliga JM, Baur JA, Hausenblas HA. Resveratrol and health–a comprehensive review of human clinical trials. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2011 Aug;55(8):1129-41.

Verster JC, Stephens R, Penning R, Rohsenow D, McGeary J, Levy D, McKinney A, Finnigan F, et al. The Alcohol Hangover Research Group Consensus Statement on Best Practice in Alcohol Hangover Research. Curr Drug Abuse Rev. 2010 Jun; 3(2): 116–126.