Christmas binge drinking increases risk of alcohol dependence, expert warns

Are you drinking more to self-medicate or just to let your hair down?

Rachel Hosie
Wednesday 21 December 2016 13:03 GMT

An alcohol addiction expert says that the booze-soaked festive period where the usual social norms no longer apply can be the trigger for longer-term problem drinking.

It comes as debates rage online about whether it's acceptable to crack open bottles of alcohol early during the run-up to Christmas.

There are two key reasons why people end up drinking more at Christmas.

The first is the increase in parties, but for some the festive period can be a miserable time, and they end up “self-medicating” with alcohol, Dr Sally Marlow from the Addictions Department at King’s College London told The Independent.

“They feel they need to do it more to cope because for a lot of people Christmas isn’t like a John Lewis ad.”

While no-one is likely to develop a severe alcohol problem solely in the run-up to Christmas, it’s a time of increased risk.

“You won’t suddenly tip into alcoholism but you might realise the severity of your drinking when you wake up one morning.

“But the more you drink and the more frequently you drink, the more likely you are to become dependent on alcohol and move towards an alcohol problem.

“People develop alcohol dependence at different rates - it’s a combination of how their biology and neuropsychology work, how they metabolise alcohol. But the more you drink the more at risk you are because you develop tolerance,” Dr Marlow explained.

While it’s generally accepted that people will crack open the hard stuff on Christmas morning as a special treat, early morning drinking in the run-up to the big day regularly splits opinion online.

In the latest example, one woman wrote on Mumsnet that she’d had a Bailey’s hot chocolate at 8am.

And while many people approved, some chipped in raising concerns that it could be problematic.

One said: “Bizarre how people are egging on really worrying behaviour.”

Another added: “At home, in the middle of the week for no particular reason? Nah. Not big and not clever. And possibly quite concerning actually.”

But many said it was harmless fun: “It's fine, it's Christmas! Enjoy yourself,” wrote one woman.

So whether you’re cheersing with chums or sipping amaretto alone, it might be worth asking yourself why you’re drinking and make sure you enjoy the festive season for the right reasons.

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