The ‘office Christmas party’ can cause angst, particularly for those already living with alcohol addiction, and with the festive season fast approaching, its time to shed light on the importance of responsible alcohol consumption during social events.
The festive season often brings about various gatherings – in particular office parties – where alcohol is prevalent. However, it is crucial to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all, especially for those with existing alcohol addiction concerns.
While the annual Christmas party provides an opportunity for employees to socialise and celebrate the successes of the past 12 months, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to regrettable behaviour and even relapse among individuals with alcohol addiction. It can also result in feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment.
I see a significant uplift in patients in December and January as a direct result of excessive alcohol intake over the festive period. While the short-term effects such as hangovers, confusion and forgetfulness wear off for many, for those with existing drink issues, this time of year can be the catalyst to ‘kick-start’ previous bad habits and a renewed cycle of detrimental drinking behaviour and dependence, with long-term repercussions, such as anxiety, depression and low mood.
Research highlights how a third of drinkers (33%) who work are more likely to feel pressured to drink at their festive work party than at any other time of year, and more than a quarter (29%) feel extra pressure to drink over the festive period with their work colleagues[i].
I encourage employees to take responsibility for their actions and behaviour during the festive season and have a ‘set’ plan in mind prior to any social event. To help with this, I have provided the following mindful drinking tips for Christmas parties:
- Start with hydration: Begin the evening by drinking a glass of water or a non-alcoholic alternative to stay hydrated. Continuously drink water throughout the event to maintain proper hydration.
- Create a ‘Buddy’ system: If possible, partner with a friend to monitor each other’s drinking and provide mutual support in adhering to personal limits.
- Set limits and intentions: Establish personal limits for alcohol consumption and consume drinks with intention and purpose, avoiding excessive drinking.
- Establish a curfew: Decide on a time to leave the event in advance, ensuring a healthy balance between celebration and personal well-being.
While no one should feel under any obligation to drink alcohol, it is important to develop and rehearse “drink refusal skills” to resist peer pressure. These skills can include:
The Little White Lie: Prepare a plausible excuse, such as being the designated driver or currently taking antibiotics, to politely decline a drink.
The Joker: Use humour by saying something outlandish or ridiculous, distracting the conversation from alcohol.
The Truth Teller: Redirect the focus back to the person offering the drink by asking a question or questioning the need for alcohol to have fun.
This festive period, there is a need for employers to adopt inclusive options and prioritise the wellbeing of their employees. Businesses can still promote celebration and reward employees, but inclusive options are key to ensuring everyone feels comfortable.
It can be common after work-related social events for many to wake up the next day and question, ‘what did I do last night?’ ‘Did I embarrass myself?’ and ‘what did I say to my boss?’, as opposed to feeling like they have had a good, fun night. For those employees who are already feeling vulnerable in such situations, alcohol can make them feel even more so and should never be a coping strategy.
In light of this, I offer the following recommendations for employers to promote a safe environment and enable responsible alcohol use at work parties:
- Provide a variety of zero-alcohol alternatives: Ensure non-alcoholic beverages are readily available, offering enticing options for employees who prefer not to consume alcohol.
- Set restrictions on free bars: If a free bar is present, consider implementing limitations on the number of drinks per person or excluding spirits, encouraging moderation.
- Communicate expectations for conduct and behaviour: Clearly communicate guidelines and expectations to all staff members before the event, emphasising professionalism and respect.
- Lead by example: Encourage management and senior staff to model responsible alcohol consumption, promoting a culture of moderation and inclusivity.
- Diversify activities: Plan engaging activities or games during the event to shift the focus away from drinking, fostering a more inclusive and enjoyable atmosphere.
While no-one wants to be seen as being a kill-joy at this time of year, responsible alcohol consumption and a supportive environment are essential for individuals to have an enjoyable and safe festive season. Ultimately, however, no-one needs to provide a reason not to drink alcohol, and if under any kind of pressure, the easiest option is to just say no and walk away.
Dr David McLaughlan
Dr David McLaughlan, is a consultant psychiatrist at Priory UK who specialises in all forms of addiction. He is also co-founder of www.curb.health - an interactive app to support people to avoid high-risk health behaviour.