November 30, 2022

Alcohol and the holidays: A healthier relationship

A behavioral health consultant in Portland, Oregon, shares how mindfulness and stigma-free advice can help people who may struggle with sobriety.

It happens every year during the holidays, and it can be worse in Oregon: cold and rainy weather, stressful family gatherings, loneliness, depression, and the soaring use of alcohol.

For people who struggle with sobriety, the holidays are a minefield of temptation. Asking for help isn’t easy. Fear, shame, and the prospect of tackling a powerful addiction are daunting.

It is not, however, impossible. Kaiser Permanente provides tips and treatment options for those who want to curb their drinking or cut it out altogether. Some are as straightforward as throwing out the alcohol you keep at home or bringing nonalcoholic options to the next neighborhood party.

Kaiser Permanente also offers a more formal option, which integrates primary care and behavioral health services, so that patients who want to talk to their physician about drinking can meet with a behavioral health consultant during their appointment — without leaving the examination room or by a video visit.

A spike in alcohol consumption and addiction

Research shows that alcohol use spikes during the holidays. A 2018 survey found that the average American adult’s intake of alcohol doubles in the final weeks of the year.

Oregon now ranks fifth among states with the most alcohol addiction, a problem that has gotten significantly worse since the pandemic. Holiday stress and loneliness compound the problem.

But cutting back on holiday drinking doesn’t require a sobriety coach or an intervention. Whether you’ve been invited to a party or are hosting it, Kaiser Permanente can provide a roadmap for controlling alcohol during the holiday season.

According to Chloe Rusca, a behavioral health consultant at Kaiser Permanente, holiday party hosts share a unique responsibility to limit the temptations for their guests.

A mindful, supportive approach

“I think it is easy to be a host who is mindful of others who are wanting to be sober or reduce their drinking even if it isn’t something you’re struggling with,” Rusca said.

She suggests removing alcohol from open spaces where guests are mingling and keeping it in a small area such as the kitchen. Leave mocktails, or nonalcoholic cocktails, in a more visible location so they’re the most accessible drinks. Rusca also suggested that if you know someone who’s struggling, make sure to greet them with a mocktail in hand.

If you are a guest trying to control your drinking, it’s helpful to bring nonalcoholic drinks to the party or ask a friend or partner to help you limit your intake. It’s also important to cut back on alcohol intake safely and gradually, rather than trying to stop cold turkey. Lean on the support of family and friends, and remember to exercise, eat a healthy diet, and get good sleep.

Integrated, stigma-free care

Kaiser Permanente also offers a more structured approach.

When our health care providers see a patient, they routinely screen for depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and substance use. If there are signs of alcohol abuse, the provider will ask if the patient would like to talk to a behavioral health consultant. If the patient says yes, the physician calls a consultant within the clinic.

Providing immediate access to treatment, rather than asking patients to follow up, makes it easier to get them help and reduces the stigma they face.

“Research is really clear that if you meet a behavioral health consultant face to face, in that moment, you are more likely to follow up with care,” Rusca said. “People don’t like referrals. They don’t want business cards with phone numbers.”

For more information about treatment for alcohol or substance abuse, visit our addiction and recovery resources on