Dec 10 - Harm Reduction Treatment, Media & Newsletters, -

Harm Reduction for the Holidays

Holidays offer many opportunities to overdo it. Between parties, celebrations, families, or money worries, we are often at a loss about how to cope. The easiest way is to fall back on old familiar ways—whether or not they have been helpful in the past. Using alcohol and other drugs can be a way of celebrating or coping. Either way, it’s easy to overdo it.

Harm Reduction offers you a new perspective and a toolkit of strategies. Harm reduction offers solutions that can be tailored for just about any holiday situation that arises: work parties, social events, family gatherings, out on the town, or at home with the TV—each situation can be crafted to help keep you in control of your alcohol and other drug use.

HRTC Holiday News Winter 2014

 5 TIPS for handling all of these situations


This means, first of all, figuring out what you want to experience—do you want to have a blast, meet new people/contacts, renew old acquaintances, find a date, or just get through it? Then, figure out exactly how much of whatever you are imbibing will give you that experience. You already know the answer to that question—it is just a matter of focusing on it in a new way. Following are several scenarios likely to occur during the holidays:

Scenario 1: You’re going to an office party in your large company. There will be great food and an open bar. There may even be a back room with some cocaine on offer. Your manager and your staff will be in attendance.

Just Say Know: what kind of an impression do you want to make and what kind of example might you be to others around you? It might be fine to be seen as the hard worker who can cut loose, but it might also lead you into making remarks or tell jokes that are out of place. What are your limits before you go from smart and witty to something you wish hadn’t happened? When should you quit? And when should you go home?

 Scenario 2: You and your new girlfriend are having Christmas Eve dinner at her parents’ house.

Just Say Know: have you met her parents before or is this a first “viewing” for all of you? How much do they drink (or use)? What will they be looking for in you? Is your girlfriend going to be anxious and need your support? Figure out in advance what the situation will call for from you and then decide how much is enough and how much too much.

Scenario 3: Everyone you know has gone out of town and you’re home alone on Christmas eve.

Just Say Know: You might not be happy to be sitting out this evening on your own. Just you, the dog, and the TV. Do you want to make it fun? Or are you liable to get drunk and create regrettable Facebook postings? How much do you need to achieve your goal and avoid regrets?

Scenario 4: Your friends are back and are planning a New Year’s Eve stroll through local bars and parties.

Just Say Know: Now this is more like it! Your best friends together and an entire city to roam through. What do you want from this evening? Forget the past year? Rejoice in the new? Just let loose and not have a care in the world?

You likely have many other situations that will occur over the next three weeks. Envision them and ask yourself: “What do I want to experience?”


Now that you know what you want to experience on each occasion, it’s time to plan. How much you drink or use doesn’t have to be out of your control. Getting ahead of the situation is the best way to negotiate holiday events. Now that you’ve got some ideas about how you want different events to go, try a buddy system. We all can use some support.

  • Have a conversation—with the people you’ll be with, or other people you trust.
  • Tell them what you’re hoping for and what you’re nervous about.
  • Make a plan and give them a role to play.

Scenario 1: The office party. You’ve decided that, even though lots of people will be getting pretty wild, you are looking to gain respect from others in the company. You also know that at the end of a hard week and with an open bar, you are liable to let loose.

  • Decide how many drinks will be optimal then tell someone what you are planning.
  • Make a pact to check in with each other each time you go to the bar.
  • If you don’t want to entrust a workmate with such a responsibility, set some automatic alarms on your phone and take a break (outside or in the restroom!) before another drink.


The best way to stay in control is to check in with yourself regularly. Get a read on how you are feeling and what you are thinking. Are you more nervous than you thought you’d be? Are people really pushing the booze or the cocaine? Are you already feeling buzzed and you’ve got hours to go?

Scenario 2: The Christmas Eve dinner. You walk in and there are a lot more people than you expected. And they’ve already had a few. They welcome you and invite you to catch up with them.

  • After your first drink, find the restroom and take a break. Remind yourself of how you want to be—for them and for your girlfriend.
  • Collect yourself and remind yourself of some of the topics that you planned to bring up in case the conversation got stilted.
  • Get yourself excited about being able to have fun and not get drunk.


There are three key skills to help you deal with situations as they arise. Refusal skills, distraction, and substitution—these can get you through tense moments when you are torn between wanting more and not wanting to end up over the top.

Scenario 4: New Year’s Eve.

  • Refusal: This takes practice in advance. Think about how you can say no that feels natural. Rehearse how you will refuse another drink or hit if you don’t want one (“no, thanks, I’m good for now”).
  • Distraction: Draw attention to something else about you or the situation (“I’m hoping to see some new faces”, or, while sipping on your drink, “check out those people in the corner”).
  • Substitution: To manage your own wishes for more, order some food, get some air, try a non-alcoholic beer, ask someone to tell you that long story about their vacation.


Everything may not go as you had hoped. Some situations you just can’t plan for. So you are in the middle of the event and you’ve had way too much to drink. Stop—try the old “where’s the restroom” trick to take yourself away for a minute.

Now is the time to encourage, not criticize yourself. And now is the time to restate your resolve—either for the moment, or for the future.

Scenario 3: Alone on Christmas Eve.You bought a split of champagne but finished it early. You didn’t get enough good food in the house and it’s raining. You find yourself cracking open the box of wine left over from last week’s holiday dinner and putting some cheese whiz in the microwave. Blown it! Well, maybe not.

  • Remind yourself that this is a tough situation for you.
  • Ask yourself if you could just pour out the rest of that not-so-great wine.
  • If not, shake it off and forgive yourself for being human. One night of a missed promise can be the start of a renewed goal.

Most important blame the plan not yourself, make a new one, and start again!