Christmas Day may be no longer than any other day, but for many people, the festive party season now lasts the whole of December.
There’s the work Christmas party, the team night out and all those get-togethers with friends and family – and so many of these occasions can often involve drinking alcohol.
But instead of helping you relax and celebrate the festive period, alcohol can lead to stressful confrontations, both with your partner and with the people around you on a night out.
Rowing more than usual? It might be the alcohol
Long before Christmas Day arrives, the social whirl leaves many of us exhausted, bloated and short-tempered from over-indulgence. Add in the tensions of extended family get-togethers and it’s perhaps no wonder the relationship support service Relate reports a 20% rise in calls during December.
Relate relationship counsellor Christine Northam says that if you find you argue a lot when you have drunk alcohol, it could mean there are underlying problems in your relationship. She believes alcohol is often used as an excuse for bad behaviour. Around a third of the couples Christine sees end up in counselling because one or both of them drink too much.
Want to make sure alcohol doesn’t stop you and your partner enjoying Christmas together? Here are five tips to try:
1. Have alcohol-free nights
Great nights out or evenings in don’t have to include alcohol. You can bond over a movie you both want to see or sip delicious alcohol-free cocktails at the bar.
2. Stay within the UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines
If you do decide to drink alcohol, try to stay within the low risk drinking guidelines . To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, the CMO advises it is safest for men and women not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis
3. Don’t forget to eat
Food slows down the rate your body absorbs alcohol. So if you do choose to drink, eat regularly before and during drinking to help you minimise the effects.
4. Talk it out with a clear head
If something is worrying or annoying you, don’t wait until you’ve had too much to drink to talk about it. Instead, try to discuss any problems with your partner over a coffee.
5. Choose the soft option
Alternate your alcoholic drinks with soft drinks to drink less alcohol overall and importantly keeps you hydrated.
How alcohol can make people aggressive
Experts believe the reason some people become confrontational when they have drunk alcohol is due to the way alcohol affects the brain.
“Alcohol reduces our ability to think straight,” says Professor McMurran, a psychologist at the University of Nottingham. “It narrows our focus of attention and gives us tunnel vision. If someone provokes us while we’re drunk, we don’t take other factors into account, such as the consequences of rising to the bait”.
This can lead to us losing our tempers when normally we’d shrug something off.
The way we process information is affected when we’ve been drinking too. We’re more likely to misinterpret other people’s behaviour and misread social cues. This could be the reason why so many drunken fights start over little more than a spilt drink or a ‘funny look’.
Good times over the festive period don’t need to end in trouble. Try our tips to avoid aggressive encounters:
Avoid binge drinking
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol in a short space of time increases the likelihood of both becoming aggressive and of being on the receiving end of someone else’s temper1.
Keep track of your drinks
If you want to keep track of how much you’re drinking, our free Drinkaware: Track and Calculate Units app can help.
Get to know if you're overdoing it?
If you think you may be drinking too much, our quick and easy online Alcohol Self-Assessment can help you find out
Go somewhere new
If nights at your local tend to get heated, why not try a different pub
Take the lead by suggesting a night out that doesn’t involve alcohol. Other people will probably be glad of a night off too!
Cut down on alcohol together and feel the benefits
If you and your partner decide to work together and support each other towards drinking less alcohol, you may have more to celebrate this Christmas than you expect.
Make an effort to notice how you feel. Alcohol is a depressant – it suppresses the hormones that make you feel happy. So without it you may find yourself feeling brighter. You may feel fresher in the morning after a better night’s sleep, or feel generally healthier and more energetic. Remember, feeling less tired can help keep petty arguments at bay too.
And tell each other about the positive changes you’re seeing, such as weight loss. This will help you stick to your goals.
Go on, find out how merry your festive season can be when you don’t rely on alcohol to provide the good times!
The British Association of Anger Management has more advice about keeping calm this Christmas.