For many of us, celebrating the holidays means pouring another drink. But reaching for one more cranberry martini or spiced winter ale can be dangerous, and not just for the well-known reasons like drunk driving or behaving inappropriately when your inhibitions are lower.
“Binge drinking is also linked with holiday heart syndrome,” says John Osborne, MD, a cardiologist and spokesperson for the American Heart Association. With holiday heart syndrome, an irregular heartbeat, or atrial fibrillation (AFib), develops in someone who doesn’t have heart disease. Stress, overeating and not sleeping enough — all common over the holidays — can make the syndrome worse. And AFib is dangerous — it’s linked with a 500 percent greater risk of stroke.
A lot of us put ourselves at risk this time of year. More than five drinks in two hours for men, or four for women, is considered binge drinking. A survey by alcohol.org found that 23 percent of men who drink and 18 percent of women who drink report binge drinking over the winter holidays, and 47 percent of men who drink and 40 percent of women who drink report binge drinking on New Year’s Eve.
If you choose to make alcohol part of your celebrations this holiday season, don’t let your Brandy Alexander kick off a bender. These tips can help keep you from overdoing it.
Start with a number in mind
Dietary guidelines recommend no more than one drink a day for women and two for men. Before you take your first sip, decide how many drinks you will have and stick to your limit.
Be especially careful if you don’t drink often, since you’re more likely to have a lower tolerance for alcohol and underestimate the effects when you do drink.
Pace yourself with nonalcoholic drinks
Alternate between water, seltzer or soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. Or just go with nonalcoholic beer or wine, or mocktails.
Keep an eye on the pour
A standard drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. Oversized glasses and heavy-handed servers can mean your drink contains more alcohol than you think. Large, wide wine glasses are particularly easy to overfill.
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Watch the top-off
If you’re sharing a pitcher of beer with friends, social etiquette can lead someone (even you!) to lift the pitcher and top off everyone’s glass. That makes it tough to keep track of your consumption. Same goes for events when the wine flows freely and servers walk around refilling glasses — you can be sipping on what you think is your first glass when you’re well into your third.
For beer and spiked seltzers: Look for a lower ABV
Standard beer and many spiked seltzers like White Claw are 5 percent alcohol by volume, or ABV. But beers like barleywines and Belgian quads easily top 10 percent. That means one of those beers equates to two or more standard beers. High APV beers can reach the same alcohol level as wine — and don’t necessarily taste “strong,” so you’re not as likely to drink them slowly.
Most spiked seltzers are roughly 4 to 5 percent ABV, but check the label to be sure. Some clock in at 14 percent.
For wine, check the labels
Consider options that have less alcohol. Standard wine is 12 percent alcohol, but some sparkling wines like muscatos can be less than half that. Rieslings are also often lower in alcohol — check the label, since alcohol content varies by producer.
You can also combine your wine with seltzer, fruit and juice for a lower-alcohol version of sangria.
For lower-alcohol cocktails
Scale down the liquor. Build cocktails around lower-alcohol liqueurs like Bailey’s Irish Cream or Kahlua rather than high-test spirits like whiskey, vodka and gin. Jacob Briars, global advocacy director at Bacardi Limited, recommends reversing your cocktail: “If you’re craving a vodka martini that tastes great but packs a little less punch, reverse the measure to two parts vermouth and one part vodka.”
He shares his recipe for a reverse Grey Goose martini:
- 1 part Grey Goose vodka
- 2 parts Martini & Rossi extra dry vermouth
- Dash of orange bitters
Add vodka, vermouth and bitters to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Stir and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.