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Binge Drinking

Blackout Wednesday: The Unofficial Start of Thanksgiving Celebrations

October 26, 2023
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
October 26, 2023
19 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
October 26, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
October 26, 2023
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
October 26, 2023
19 min read

The bustling energy of Thanksgiving is in the air, and with it comes Blackout Wednesday. Before you're caught up in the whirlwind of festivities, let's explore what Blackout Wednesday is, and why it might be a tricky time for those striving to reduce or quit alcohol.

Booze and Holidays

It’s no secret that alcohol is a big part of holiday celebrations in many cultures. The festive spirit of holidays often goes hand in hand with a glass of bubbly or a cocktail. But why? 

  • The historical link. Many holidays have deep-rooted traditions, and alcohol has been part of many celebrations for centuries. For instance, during ancient Roman festivals, wine was consumed in large quantities as part of the revelry. Over time, these traditions have evolved, and while the reasons for drinking might have changed, the association between holidays and alcohol — for better or worse — has endured.
  • Social expectations. During holidays, there's often more pressure to conform to societal norms and traditions: making toasts, sharing a bottle of wine during a holiday meal, or attending parties where booze flows freely. The expectation to join in can be strong, and those who are abstaining or cutting back can feel out of place.
  • Emotional amplification. Holidays can elicit a mixture of feelings. The joy of reuniting with loved ones, the stress of preparations, the decades of unspoken tensions, or the pang of nostalgia can all amp up our emotional state. For some, alcohol becomes a way to enhance positive feelings or numb the negative ones.

However, holidays don’t necessarily equal booze for everyone — in recent years, many have embraced the alcohol-free vacation tradition. The sober tourism trend, coupled with a rising trend in sober festivities, has helped set the stage for new traditions marked by more meaningful, buzz-free (and hangover-free!) celebrations.

What Is Blackout Wednesday?

Blackout Wednesday, sometimes also referred to as Drinksgiving, falls on the night before Thanksgiving. On this night, many people — particularly college students and young adults — indulge in heavy drinking. But what exactly is this day, and why has it become such a focal point, especially among the younger generation?

Historically, this phenomenon could be attributed to the fact that many folks return home for Thanksgiving and spend time with old friends before the official holiday, which often leads to sharing a few drinks or going to a neighborhood bar together.

While the tradition of meeting up with friends during the holidays has been around for years, Blackout Wednesday — a term that gained traction in the 2010s — goes a bit further. It refers to excessive drinking that sometimes leads people to experience "blackouts" or memory lapses

Several factors contribute to Blackout Wednesday's prominence:

  • College students coming home. One of the busiest travel periods in the U.S., the Thanksgiving holiday sees millions of college students returning to their hometowns for a long weekend before heading back to face final exams. This migration often results in impromptu reunions with old friends and classmates to blow off steam on the night before — ones that can quickly turn into boozy celebrations.
  • A breather before the Big Day. Thanksgiving Day itself is typically packed with family commitments, cooking marathons, and other responsibilities. For many — especially for the younger crowd — Blackout Wednesday offers a chance to let loose and enjoy a night off before the familial obligations.
  • No work on Thursday. With most people off work for Thanksgiving Day, the consequences of nursing a hangover are less daunting, leading some to drink more than they would on a typical weekday night.

The Concerns

While Blackout Wednesday is often considered a fun-filled kickoff to the holiday season, it's not without its downsides.

  • Health implications. Binge drinking can have severe health consequences — both immediate (such as alcohol poisoning, dehydration, and hangovers) and long-term (liver damage or risk of dependency).
  • The brain and dependency. Alcohol triggers the release of dopamine — a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Over time, our brain starts to anticipate this dopamine rush with the consumption of alcohol. On days like Blackout Wednesday, when the environment is already primed for celebration, this anticipation can be even stronger.
  • Safety concerns. Alcohol affects the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and impulse control. As a result, after a few drinks, our ability to make rational decisions diminishes, increasing the likelihood of consuming more alcohol than intended and raising the risk of accidents, injuries, and driving under the influence. As a result, the holidays often see a spike in alcohol-related incidents, including drunk driving.
  • Emotional and mental well-being. While some view the night as a way to reconnect and have fun, excessive drinking can exacerbate loneliness, anxiety, and depression for others. Besides, holidays as a whole tend to stir a mix of emotions — be it nostalgia, happiness, sadness, or stress — and alcohol can be mistakenly viewed as a solution to cope or amplify certain feelings, leading to overindulgence. For those already grappling with mental health challenges, excessive alcohol can exacerbate symptoms.
  • Social pressure. The atmosphere surrounding Blackout Wednesday, while festive, can release a swarm of vulnerabilities. When surrounded by old friends or peers who are drinking, the pressure to join in and not feel left out can be immense, overriding personal intentions or boundaries set around alcohol consumption.
Alcohol-Free Thanksgiving Traditions

Stepping Back

Blackout Wednesday has grown in cultural significance, but it also brings unique challenges, especially for those navigating their relationship with alcohol. The hype around Blackout Wednesday can be especially challenging for those trying to limit or eliminate alcohol. The combination of drinking, social expectations, and the pressures that sometimes come with holidays can create a dangerous whirlpool of emotions and potential triggers.

One way to approach this potential minefield is to take a broader approach, seeing the bigger picture of celebrating and connecting with friends.

Is It Possible To Celebrate Booze-Free? You Bet!

Alcohol is a common celebratory component, but it's certainly not the only way to celebrate! Many societies have rich, alcohol-free traditions that bring communities together and foster a sense of unity and joy. Here are some delightful examples from around the world:

  • Sweden: Midsummer Day. Midsummer in Sweden is a celebration of the longest day of the year. People gather in open fields to dance around the maypole, sing traditional songs, and enjoy a festive meal. Alcohol-free berry drinks — especially made from strawberries — are a popular treat during this celebration.
  • Mexico: Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos). This iconic Mexican tradition is a time to remember and celebrate deceased loved ones. Families create colorful altars filled with photographs, candles, and favorite foods of the departed. A special treat during this festival is pan de muerto — a sweet bread enjoyed with hot chocolate. Recently, special non-alcoholic beverages made in honor of the Day of the Dead have served as an additional booze-free alternative.
  • New Zealand: Matariki (Maori New Year). Matariki marks the rise of the Pleiades star cluster and the beginning of the Maori New Year. It's a time of renewal and remembrance. Families come together to share stories, sing, dance, and fly kites. In 2022, a concert organized as part of the Matariki celebration was designated an alcohol-free event
  • Indonesia: Waisak (Vesak Day). Waisak is the most significant Buddhist festival in Indonesia, celebrating Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and death. Taking place at the Borobudur temple, thousands join a procession, light candles, and release lanterns into the night sky, symbolizing enlightenment for the world. The celebration itself is alcohol-free, and hotels, bars, and restaurants actually stop serving booze altogether during this holiday. 

Tips for Navigating Blackout Wednesday Without Booze

Staying on track doesn’t have to mean missing out on the fun! With some intentional planning and a mindful approach, you can have an enjoyable Blackout Wednesday without compromising your goals.

  • Plan ahead. Determine your strategy before the day arrives. If you plan to attend a gathering, consider letting a trusted friend know about your intentions to avoid alcohol. They can be a source of support and understanding.
  • Set clear intentions. Before the festivities begin, outline what you hope to achieve from the night. Is it catching up with old friends, having a fun evening, or perhaps even challenging yourself to stick to a specific drink limit?
  • Stay present. By staying in the moment, you can better gauge your emotions, recognize when you might be drinking as a coping mechanism, and make more informed decisions.
  • Have an alcohol-free drink in hand. If you're at a party, a non-alcoholic beverage in your hand can prevent others from offering you alcoholic drinks. There are many delightful mocktail recipes available that can make you feel like you're still part of the festivities.
  • Focus on connections. Despite its name, Blackout Wednesday is about reuniting with old friends. Prioritize meaningful conversations and catching up. It's the company, not the alcohol, that makes these reunions memorable.
  • Prioritize self-care. Emotions can run high during the holidays. Make time for activities that help you relax and destress. Anything from reading a book, taking a long bath, or practicing meditation could do the trick.
  • Educate yourself. The more you know about alcohol’s effects on the brain and body, the more empowered you'll be to make informed choices. Numerous books, documentaries, and online resources delve into this subject.
  • Remember your “why.” Keep a list of reasons why you chose to cut back or quit alcohol. Reflecting on these reasons can bolster your resolve, especially during challenging times.
  • Seek support. Sharing your intentions with a trusted friend or family member can provide a valuable support system, helping you stay on track.

Why not start a new Blackout Wednesday tradition that doesn't revolve around alcohol? Here are some ideas:

  • DIY craft night. Blackout Wednesday can transform into a night of creativity! From hand-painted Thanksgiving centerpieces to handwritten gratitude cards, there's joy in creating something together.
  • Game marathon. Dust off those board games or video games and host a friendly competition. Whether it's Settlers of Catan or a round of charades, a game marathon can become a beloved annual tradition.
  • Blackout Wednesday vision board. Create a vision board for friends and family members to list their goals for the coming year. In addition to serving as inspiration, it can become a great time capsule to look back on for years to come!
  • Outdoor adventure. Organize a nighttime hike with lanterns, go on a scenic drive, or host a campfire evening with s'mores and storytelling.
  • Memory sharing. Designate some time during Thanksgiving dinner for everyone to share a cherished memory from the past year or a hope for the year to come. This meaningful activity allows for reflection and deepens bonds.
  • Volunteering together. Transform Blackout Wednesday or Thanksgiving Day by volunteering in the community. Whether it’s serving meals at a local shelter or organizing a neighborhood cleanup, giving back can be a fulfilling way to celebrate.
  • Home movie night. Curate a selection of family-friendly movies or documentaries to watch together. Create a cozy movie-watching space with blankets and pillows, and serve a variety of popcorn flavors and alcohol-free mocktails.

A Mindful Celebration

Blackout Wednesday, while reunion-filled and festive, can be a challenging landscape for those of us reducing or eliminating alcohol. But with preparation, mindfulness, and support, it's entirely possible to navigate the evening with joy, connection, and a clear head. Let's redefine Blackout Wednesday to be about memories made, not memories lost to excessive drinking!

Summary FAQs

1. What is Blackout Wednesday?

Blackout Wednesday refers to the night before Thanksgiving, known for its high levels of alcohol consumption. It's become a modern phenomenon where many people, especially the younger generation, gather with old friends, and often indulge more than usual.

2. Why is Blackout Wednesday associated with heavy drinking?

Several factors contribute, including the reunion of old friends, the opportunity for a breather before Thanksgiving's family commitments, and the fact that most people don't have work the next day, making the consequences of a hangover less daunting.

3. How is Blackout Wednesday different from regular holidays with alcohol?

While many holidays have an association with alcohol due to tradition, Blackout Wednesday is unique because it's centered around reunions and the pre-holiday break, making it particularly popular among younger adults and college students.

4. Why is it essential to approach Blackout Wednesday mindfully?

A mindful approach can help navigate peer pressure, emotional triggers, and the biological responses of the brain to alcohol. It also aids in preventing potential physical, mental, and safety-related consequences of excessive drinking.

5. How does alcohol impact the brain?

Alcohol triggers a dopamine release, associated with pleasure and reward. It also affects the prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision-making, leading to impaired judgment after a few drinks.

6. What are the potential consequences of not being mindful on Blackout Wednesday?

Possible repercussions include immediate health risks like alcohol poisoning, long-term health issues, exacerbation of mental health challenges, and increased safety risks due to impaired decision-making.

7. How can I stay resilient and mindful during Blackout Wednesday?

Setting clear intentions, staying present during celebrations, and seeking support from trusted friends or family can help navigate the evening without compromising well-being.

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