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Abstinence for the Holidays

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Abstinence for the Holidays

Spiked egg nog, mulled wine, and New Years champagne are nearly as ingrained in our holiday psyches as Christmas trees, menorahs, and Santa Claus.

But why? Why do so many of us overindulge in booze year after year, knowing that by January, we’ll be feeling puffy, bloated, and toxic?

I’m Guilty

I’m not pointing fingers at other people without owning my own tendency to do the same. It’s so easy to keep pouring the wine at those holiday parties, add an extra shot to that egg nog, and get sloshed at the big New Years bash. (Yes, most doctors I know drink, often to excess. Just because we wear white coats doesn’t mean we’re health nuts or saints.)

By the first week of January, I usually feel so gross from the combination of too much food, too much sugar, and too much alcohol that I’m always super motivated to do one of my quarterly green juice detox cleanses.

But why do we put our bodies through this toxic torture? Why are we so tempted to numb out during the holidays? What are our real motivations for the overindulgence?

The REAL Reason We Drink Too Much

Do we really overindulge because we’re thirsty (um. . . dehydration, anyone?) Is it because drinking is really so awesomely festive? (Is that hangover really fun the morning after?) Is it really because we love the taste of bubbly so much? Is it because we’re so dedicated to making sure we taste that $200 bottle of cabernet someone just opened as an extra special treat? Is it really because drinking helps us bust a better move on the dance floor?

Or is there a deeper reason? Does hanging with the obsessive-compulsive bossman make you nervous? Are you really admitting that the only way you can tolerate hypercritical Uncle Joe is to pour yourself a stiff one? Are you freaked out by a roomful of people at a party that you hardly know? Are you actually self-medicating your social anxiety, rather than imbibing alcohol to feel good?

Or is it something else? Do the holidays bring up painful old stories for you? Do you miss your mom so much you can barely suppress the tears? Does the Christmas tree remind you of how your father abandoned you when you were three? Do all your insecure teenage moments flood over you when the holiday parties rev up? Are you hoping a margarita will numb the sadness, erase the hurt, and help you gloss over the loss?

Or is drinking what you do when you’re just plain bored?  Can you hardly stand sitting around your parent’s home while the TV drones on and nobody talks?  Do the holidays make you so stir crazy that you have to drink in order to while away the hours? Is drinking a bonding exercise between you and your siblings? Or simply a ritual you never bother questioning?

Do you REALLY want to overindulge this holiday season?

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Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.  Lissa blogs at and also created two online communities - and She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.


+ add your own
6:32PM PST on Dec 24, 2011

Fortunately, I don't really go for alcohol, ever. But I completely failed at my attempts to avoid the chocolate at the office.

12:43AM PST on Dec 24, 2011

GREAT questions asked in this article, thanks!

9:52PM PST on Dec 23, 2011

Wow. I just decided yesterday that my christmas this year would be a time for solitary reflection and meditation - and this evening I come across your article mentioning the same idea! I was considering a wee glass of mulled wine on xmas eve, but after reading this maybe I'll skip it. I would love to start the new year feeling fresh and full of energy. Great article, thanks, and good luck for the booze-free festivities. Happy Christmas :-)

5:58PM PST on Dec 20, 2011

Thanks for posting.

6:28PM PST on Dec 19, 2011

I hardly ever drink but I do have a drink or two at parties or in social contexts where I feel a little uncomfortable. However I look forward to trying a booze free holiday season. Drinking alcohol has never been my idea of having fun anyway. It usually gives me headaches and it makes me sleepy. For me having holiday fun means listening and dancing to awesome music and spending time with good friends. So I'm joining your booze free holiday resolution and will let you know how I'm doing.

7:04AM PST on Dec 18, 2011

I think drinking is part of our culture, we have to drink this for that season, and another kind of alcohol for easter and so on. Then we're supposed to have a good time and then you just drink too much. Luckily I can have a good time without drinking and I don't care much about traditions, so I'll be fine with a glass of water.

9:56AM PST on Dec 17, 2011


6:10AM PST on Dec 17, 2011


4:41AM PST on Dec 17, 2011

Good article, thanks.

4:22AM PST on Dec 17, 2011

Lissa, I always read your posts. Your are an inspiration. I drink way too much red wine, but will try to get through the upcoming weeks without. Please wish me luck, it will not be easy.

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