As an executive coach and psychotherapist, I have heard stories over the years with remarkably similar themes. There are events and situations that many people commonly face that create difficulties in their lives. As we enter the season of office parties and holiday functions, people’s alcohol use and unintended consequence of their use remains an “oft told tale.”

Tragically, sometimes the consequences of overindulging with alcohol results in the death of that person or others in an alcohol related car accident. Sometimes the less but also consequential result is an OUI charge, leading to loss of one’s license and significant financial costs associated with legal proceedings. However, the most common effect of overindulging with alcohol at a holiday function is that people end up saying things or doing things that they later regret.

Alcohol is a chemical that works as a depressant, which means that it slows down biological functions (as opposed to depressing people’s mood which is something different). The more alcohol one consumes, the more slowed one is with thinking and reaction times. In addition, alcohol impairs self-awareness and reduces inhibitions, leading people to do or say things without thinking them through or realistically considering the consequences. People can end up telling their boss/co-worker EXACTLY what they think of them (in ways that are destructive) or telling others way too much personal information. Here’s the thing: Once that “horse has left the barn, you cannot close the door to stop it.” You cannot take that information back once you have said it.

Some of you are reading this and thinking, “Great, John. So, what you are telling me is that I cannot go to my office party and have a good time?” That is not my point. However, there are strategies that you can use to ensure that you MODERATE your use of alcohol so that you never overindulge and find yourself with regrets the next morning. Here are a few:

  • Physical balance. Before you enter the party or social function, check yourself physically. Have you not eaten all day and are you functioning on an empty stomach? Are you already tired out from the day or week? If so, you likely need to be more limited in your use of alcohol as it could have more of an impact on you than usual.
  • Water. I always drink water along with my alcoholic beverage, especially when I first arrive somewhere, and I am very thirsty. This can help to mitigate the chance that you gulp down a few drinks to “quench your thirst” and then keep that pace going with lowered inhibitions. If you are in a party environment where you cannot have two beverages, alternate between waters and your other alcoholic drink of choice.
  • Pace yourself: 0-1-3. This is a controlled drinking strategy that helps people maintain control of themselves and their awareness.
    • Zero: Never feel as if you must drink alcohol. Bars serve nonalcoholic beverages. Holiday functions always have soda, juices, or water. Often just having a beverage in your hand helps you feel a part of things, no matter what it is.
    • One: No more than one drink per hour. Sip your beverage slowly and use this as an opportunity for mindfulness. Pacing yourself in this way allows your body to be processing the alcohol in a way that keeps you from being over the legal limit (.08 blood alcohol content in most states) and aware of your actions.
    • Three. No more than 3 drinks on any one day to be sure that you stay in control and not legally intoxicated (this one also may need to be a “2” if you are a person of smaller stature).

Hopefully, you now feel better prepared to take on those office or neighborhood parties with more knowledge of how to manage your alcohol use. Remember that your goal is to come away from those events with fond memories of these celebrations as opposed to ruminating about the things that you did or said that you now regret.

Do you have other tricks that you use to manage your alcohol use in these situations? Feel free to post your comments here or write to me at:

Make those holidays festive (and regret free)!