It seems like every gathering you go to from Thanksgiving to New Year's involves some kind of alcohol. 'Tis the season for hot toddies...and champagne, and cocktails, and endless glasses of wine. Getting into the holiday spirit with spirits is so pervasive that we've even dedicated the month of January to detoxing.
"Drinking is more excessive during the holidays—it's like you hit a green light that won't turn red again until New Year's Day and you think you can drink without consequences because it's the holidays," says Lisa Boucher, author of Raising the Bottom: Making Mindful Choices in a Drinking Culture, a recovering alcoholic who's been coaching women to overcome unhealthy drinking habits for 28 years.
And no, addiction definitely isn't a men-only problem. "A woman's body contains less water, which means drugs and alcohol are less diluted; and has more fatty tissue, which leads to higher retention; and lower levels of specific enzymes that can help break down substances," says Indra Cidambi, M.D., an addiction expert. "So women can become addicted faster since their bodies are exposed to alcohol longer and at higher concentration levels." Considering the fact that alcohol use disorder is on the rise among women, it's worth paying a little extra attention to your drinking habits this season. (P.S. Here are some signs you might actually be allergic to alcohol.)
But even if you aren't worried about alcohol dependency—and are just sick of feeling like your body is wrecked by the time January rolls around—take note of these 10 expert-backed strategies to drink less during the holidays.
1. Start a new habit.
To build a healthier habit, first take a look at your current ones, says Rebecca Scritchfield, R.D.N., behavior change expert and author of Body Kindness. "Ask yourself, 'Why am I reaching for the drink? What's the motivation behind that action?'" to figure out if you really want that third glass of champagne or if there might be something deeper going on (like you're trying to destress).
Once you've identified an unhealthy habit—maybe you're constantly sipping on a cocktail just to avoid feeling awkward at the company party—it's time to break it. "In order to change a habit, you need to practice a new routine that replaces an old one," says Scritchfield. Instead of reaching for a refill every time you get anxious at the office party, crunch on some crudités instead.
And don't drop your drinking alternative once the ball drops on NYE. "Continuing to practice this new routine is key—it takes about six months for a practice to become a habit," Scritchfield says.
2. Think about each drink as a spoonful of sugar.
You wouldn't shovel 10 gingerbread cookies into your mouth. Why not give the same attention to your alcohol servings? "Be mindful that alcohol turns to sugar in the body," says Boucher. "Think of that cocktail as a heaping spoonful of sugar—that may be enough of a visual to help you keep things in check."
3. Destress before you socialize.
Between tackling your gift list, baking treats for your book club's holiday gathering, and navigating a million family commitments, it can feel like you need that drink (or three) at the holiday party. "Women tend to overeat and drink too much when they're stressed," says Boucher. Instead of stress sipping, spend five minutes doing yoga or meditating before hitting the bar. Destressing even a little bit can help you curb your alcohol intake.
4. Reach for a new nightcap.
All that seasonal stress can also mean "drinking becomes a way to wind down and shut your brain off from the endless to-do list," says Boucher. If you notice yourself getting in the habit of opening a bottle of wine to help take the edge off before bed, try to find an alternative nighttime ritual to swap out for the booze, says Scritchfield. Give yourself a post-shower massage with a little lavender oil, draw an Instagram-worthy bath, or take some melatonin with a festive cup of peppermint tea.
5. Water down your drink.
We've all heard that you should follow the 1:1 ratio—one glass of water for every alcoholic drink. But walking around with water in your hand for half the night can feel unfestive or be easy to forget. Instead, ask the bartender to make your cocktails with half a shot or reach for a wine spritzer instead of a regular glass. If you're a beer drinker, pick the brew with the lowest alcohol percentage and stick to it for the evening. "You get to enjoy the taste, it feels social, but you won't get the hangover," says Boucher.
6. Call it an early night.
Holiday drinking tends to go from spirited to sh*t-faced as the night wears on. If you're trying to stick to healthy drinking habits, head out before the shots start pouring. "Most times I find that two hours is plenty of time to talk to the people I want to talk to and make my exit before the party becomes all about the drinking," Boucher says.
7. Bring a friend to make things less awkward.
That peppermint martini is a tempting antidote to your social anxiety. "Your mind may be telling you people will enjoy being around you more after a few drinks,'" says Scritchfield. While a drink might help loosen you up, it can actually make social anxiety worse. Bring a friend as your social lubricant instead—she can help you carry the conversation without giving you a hangover.
8. Avoid drama.
"People may also reach for a drink to help them deal with being around difficult people," Scritchfield says. As much as you love your family, they can be a lot to deal with at the holidays. "It's healthier to have an agreement with yourself like, 'I will make small talk with this person, but I will also surround myself with the family I get along with and give myself plenty of me time,'" she says. If Uncle Rudy and Aunt Jean start fighting over politics (again) don't let it drive you to drink. "I was taught to visualize a Hula-Hoop around my waist—anything outside of the Hula-Hoop is none of my business," says Boucher. "Works like a charm."
9. Audit your hangover.
When you do go overboard at the holiday party, don't just throw it in the regrets column and move on with a couple aspirin. "Think about what caused you to drink excessively and write it down," advises Dr. Cidambi. Before heading to another fête, have another way of dealing in mind.
10. Learn to say "no thank you"—and support others when they do.
"It's okay to decline a cocktail," says Scritchfield. If you don't want that third drink, you don't need to explain yourself or make up an excuse. "We need to support people who say no thank you and not make their refusal the next topic of conversation. I've seen too many women get shamed for not buying into the excessive drinking culture," she adds. If you really don't want to deal with everyone asking why you're "no fun," head to the bar and get yourself a seltzer with lime, says Boucher. "Once you have something in your hand, people don't ask why you're not drinking."
If you think your drinking is a problem...
Of course, there's a big difference between cutting back on alcohol because you want to and cutting out alcohol because you need to. "If it's noon and you're already salivating thinking about happy hour, your dependence on alcohol is growing," says Boucher.
The CDC describes binge drinking as four or more drinks in two hours, and regularly going over that is an issue. "Once you drink to cope with problems or to drown out negativity, you're immersed in an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, and your drinking isn't just social," Boucher says. If you think you're in dangerous territory, talk to your doctor or reach out to an organization like the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.