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When Christmas cheer becomes problem drinking

Published 16/12/2007

Christmas is traditionally a time of notorious self-indulgence - and along with all the turkey and mince pies, it's not unusual for many of us to drink far more than we usually do.

But is that consumption merely festive cheer, or signs of a more serious dependence on alcohol? According to Sue Allchurch, director of Linwood Manor Group, it's at this time of year that many problem drinkers first start to encounter the symptoms of alcoholism.

"Christmas puts a huge strain on people and stress often leads to drinking more in a bid to relax or avoid facing issues," she says.

There are a number of reasons, she adds, why some people end up drinking too much at a consistent level, including the financial strain caused by overspending; the pressure to be upbeat and act as the ‘perfect host'; spending extended periods with relatives; and the need for confidence in social situations, such as the office Christmas party.

"At Christmas, it is seen as acceptable to start drinking almost at breakfast time," says Allchurch. But although the government makes recommendation of safe drinking levels via units, she says, few people really understand what a unit means.

In addition, people are built so differently that units are too general a measure to provide an accurate indicator of ‘safe drinking' for the individual. "A woman who weighs seven stone and is 5ft tall is going to react differently to an Amazonian type, even if they are drinking the same amount," she says.

So how can you recognise if ‘festive cheer' is masking a more serious alcohol dependence problem? Allchurch provides a few tell-tale signs: 

  • At home doing the cooking, you have on glass on the go in the kitchen and one out with everyone else, both of which are regularly being topped up;  
  • You offer to go to the bar to buy the drinks, and sneak an extra one whilst you are up there; 
  • You encourage others to drink too much;  
  • You invite - or even pressure -- people back to your house after closing time to justify continued drinking; 
  • You're a ‘mine-sweeper' who finishes off people's dregs at the end of the night or takes a crafty swig of other people's drinks during a night out; 
  • You'll drink anything alcoholic if it is the only option -- even if you normally hate it -- to the point where draining liqueur chocolates or spooning the liquid off a sherry trifle seems normal; 
  • You lie about the amount you have drunk - even to yourself; 
  • You discover that you need a drink and that is has become a habit.

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