Know Your Limits

Alcohol abuse can masquerade as holiday cheer during parties and family dinners. That’s especially true if you face a marathon of office, neighborhood and family gatherings.

But how much fun is too much? Celebrate with moderation.

Before you mix a drink or head out to a party, understand your risks for becoming dependent on alcohol or becoming a victim of the dark side of excessive drinking. John Eustace, M.D., medical director of the Addiction Treatment & Recovery Center at South Miami Hospital sheds some light on this common problem and offers advice to avoid potential problems.

When does a social drink become a problem drink?

For some partygoers, alcohol is just another beverage. They’re equally happy with a soft drink or an alcoholic cocktail, and a party is just another opportunity to develop and enjoy their social network. But it’s a different story for about 60 percent of the population, who unknowingly, unintentionally or subconsciously use alcohol as an anti-anxiety solution or a social lubricant to ease their tension, fear or low self-esteem. Through drinking, they are able to develop a different personality or more become more confident. That use of alcohol is a red flag.

“The connection between alcohol abuse, social anxiety and other stressors can be addressed in a place of privacy and respect,” Dr. Eustace says. “It’s important to get informed and to address alcohol abuse without stigma or shame.”

Why has it become acceptable to drink excessively at parties, especially during the holidays?

Have you ever seen an alcoholic party-scene commercial that features domestic violence, sexual abuse, vehicular manslaughter or any other alcohol-related problems? No. But you are more likely to see a wide-range of commercial images that paint alcohol consumption with a glow of happiness.  Festive, alcohol-soaked images are front and center during the holiday season. As a result, excessive drinking has become “ok,” “normal” and socially acceptable.

The commercial and entertainment depiction of alcohol does not encourage temperance or moderation.

“We need to address and endorse ‘the whole story’ about what alcohol really is and what it has become,” Dr. Eustace says. “For a significant portion of the population, alcohol is a dangerous drug. It’s a form of self-medication that enables the drinker to disguise and retreat from deeper problems.”

Alcohol, he says, is a potentially toxic, euphoric chemical in which tiny carbohydrate molecules affect the brain and can completely detach a good person from proper values, sound judgments and impulse control. Alcohol abuse and addiction create a scenario that could trigger vulgar language, aggression, violence and other inappropriate or dangerous behaviors.

What’s the best strategy for avoiding excessive drinking? 
  • Get grounded. Ask yourself: “Do I belong at this party or bar setting? Do I want to take the risk? Is drinking that important to me?”
  • Know your limits. Honesty is the best policy. If you have a drinking problem, be realistic and compassionate with yourself. Give yourself permission to reach out for professional support and treatment.
  • Practice polite refusals. Dr. Eustace recommends this response to an invitation:  “No, thanks. I’m cooling my party activities this year.  Thanks for the invite. I made a date with an old relative I just have to see.”
  • Plan ahead: If you feel obligated to attend family or work events, go with a non-drinking companion. Prepare an “escape” plan and script: “It was great to be here. We have a few other places we have to go. See you back at the office.”

Dr. Eustace recommends reaching out for help when you realize you have a problem.

“If it ever gets to the place, where you are sick and tired of that alcohol-party lifestyle and learn that alcohol is hurting you, please call for help,” he says.

“Most therapists are understanding, compassionate and very willing to help. Many, especially those employed by alcohol/drug treatment programs, are recovering themselves; have a family member who is either affected or is recovering; or has a special interest in helping people whose lives have been affected by alcohol or drugs.”

In addition, Baptist Health offers several support groups, including 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, for those facing emotional or physical addiction to pain pills, sleeping medication, sedatives, marijuana or cocaine.

“You don’t need a special occasion or a holiday to reach out for help,” Dr. Eustace says.




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