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Have plan to limit yule cocktail habit

’Tis definitely the season to eat, drink and be merry. Some of us, however, take those festive guidelines a wee bit too seriously – particularly with eggnog, mulled wine, champagne and other alcoholic beverages.

Why do people drink too much during the holidays?

“A lot of traditions at this time of year involve alcohol,” Virginia clinical psychologist Diane Hoekstra says. “You’re with friends and family who you may not see all the time, and you really want to have a good time, and so you celebrate with a few drinks, which isn’t harmful as long as you’re aware of your limits.” Unfortunately, that can be more difficult when you’re not used to drinking a lot, as well as when you’re guzzling seasonal cocktails that you’re not particularly accustomed to.

“Most of us don’t drink champagne or cognac or eggnog on a regular basis,” explains Daniel Z. Lieberman, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University. “I may know that three to four beers is my limit, but I have no idea what it is with brandy or eggnog, so it’s possible to lose track much more easily.”

The strife and strain that often build during the holidays can also play a role in overdrinking. “Sometimes you’re at parties or getting together with extended family that maybe people don’t necessarily feel totally comfortable with, and drinking is a way to grease those wheels a little bit,” Lieberman says. “There is so much pressure to be happy during the holidays, so much pressure to be with loved ones, that if you’re going through a difficult time, like with a divorce or a loss or you don’t have someone in your life at this period of time, it’s really magnified.”

Hoekstra agrees, adding that mental health concerns, stress and distress all go up during the holidays because of family conflicts, financial concerns and any number of other issues. “Unfortunately, many people medicate their pain or depression with alcohol, or use it as a potential stress release,” she says. “I often see people who don’t have a real alcohol problem drinking and doing things they wouldn’t normally do at this time of year.”

For anyone who’s interested in trying to curtail their cocktail habit this Christmas or beyond, Harris offers a few simple tips that work no matter what your motivation for cutting back:

•Alternate sparkling water (or something else nonalcoholic) with any alcohol you consume.

•Go for a wine spritzer, or add ice to other drinks.

•Figure out beforehand how many drinks you will actually enjoy without feeling lousy the next day.

•After setting a drink quota for the night, spread them out over the course of the evening.

•Don’t make drinking the focus of your partygoing.

•Have a distinctly flavored hard candy in your mouth whenever you don’t want to be drinking.

•Always have some of what you love. Studies have shown that when people know they are not allowed to have a certain food, cravings for that food increase.