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Thanksgiving and Alcohol: Navigating the Holiday With Sobriety

December 30, 2023
18 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.
December 30, 2023
18 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.
December 30, 2023
18 min read
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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.
December 30, 2023
18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
December 30, 2023
18 min read

Thanksgiving Day is one of the most celebrated and eagerly anticipated holidays in the United States. Each year, families and friends gather together to share the warmth of a meal and reflect on what they’re grateful for in life. 

Despite its uplifting nature, Thanksgiving is also associated with overindulgence, and alcohol is no exception. Wine, beer, ciders, and various forms of liquor tend to find their way into many Thanksgiving traditions, from the pre-meal toast to the football games. This can be a challenging event, especially for those of us trying to change our relationship with alcohol. 

However, we can enjoy an alcohol-free celebration and avoid the negative consequences of drinking, both the day after Thanksgiving and well beyond. It requires preparation and practice on our part, but with the right steps, we can ensure a safe and enjoyable holiday. 

In this blog we’ll explore the complex relationship between Thanksgiving and alcohol. We’ll also share several tips on how to celebrate Thanksgiving without alcohol.

What Is Thanksgiving Day?

Thanksgiving Day embodies a spirit of gratitude and familial warmth. Observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November, Thanksgiving is considered a time for families and friends to gather and reflect on the blessings and accomplishments of the past year.

Central to this holiday is the Thanksgiving meal, which usually features turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and various other dishes that vary from region to region and family to family. 

Beyond the meal, Thanksgiving is also a time for various family traditions, which may include watching football games, participating in local parades, and engaging in volunteer work. These activities underscore the holiday's themes of togetherness, community involvement, and the sharing of blessings. However, there are potential risks involved with Thanksgiving, given its indulgent nature, especially regarding alcohol.

Thanksgiving and Alcohol Traditions

Thanksgiving and alcohol have long been intertwined in many celebratory traditions. This association is deeply ingrained; from the sparkling wine that accompanies the pre-meal toast, to the beer consumed during Thanksgiving Day football games, and the nightcap that often concludes the day's festivities. These practices are not just about the act of drinking; they symbolize camaraderie, relaxation, and festivity.

The wine toast, for instance, is a moment of collective pause, during which everyone present raises their glasses in unison to acknowledge the blessings of the past year and the shared joy of the moment. This ritual dates back centuries, serving as a symbol of goodwill and celebration. Similarly, watching football on Thanksgiving is a tradition for many American families. Many people consume beer — often multiple in a row — as they cheer on their favorite team. The nightcap, another common practice, is typically a moment of quiet reflection, a soothing end to a day filled with activity and social interaction.

However, alcohol’s pervasive presence during Thanksgiving can present significant challenges for people trying to cut back on or quit drinking. The ubiquity of alcoholic beverages during these celebrations can lead to peer pressure and overindulgences. This not only results in unpleasant outcomes such as hangovers the day after Thanksgiving, but can also hinder long-term health goals. 

For those in recovery or who simply choose to abstain, working within these traditions requires resilience and often, a change in the Thanksgiving narrative. It involves redefining what celebration and relaxation mean, seeking alternative ways to connect and enjoy the holiday, and potentially reshaping traditions to be more inclusive and mindful of diverse lifestyle choices. The challenge lies not only with the person changing their drinking habits but also with the wider social circle.

Health Risks of Drinking Too Much During Thanksgiving

The health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption during Thanksgiving, and indeed any celebratory occasion, are substantial and multifaceted. These risks can be broadly categorized into immediate and long-term effects, each carrying its own set of dangers.

Thanksgiving and Alcohol: Short-Term Risks

In the immediate term, overindulgence in alcohol can severely impair cognitive and motor functions. The most visible and immediate effect is on judgment and coordination. Alcohol acts as a depressant on the central nervous system, leading to slowed reaction times, blurred vision, and impaired motor skills. This impairment significantly increases the risk of accidents and injuries, not just for the person consuming alcohol but also for others around them, particularly if they engage in activities such as driving.

Moreover, excessive alcohol intake can lead to acute alcohol poisoning, a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include confusion, vomiting, seizures, slow or irregular breathing, and unconsciousness. This condition requires immediate medical attention as it can lead to permanent brain damage or death.

Thanksgiving and Alcohol: Long-Term Risks

In the longer term, chronic heavy drinking presents serious health risks. One of the most well-known consequences is liver damage. The liver processes alcohol, and it is particularly vulnerable to the effects of overindulgence. Excessive drinking can lead to conditions such as fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. Cirrhosis, the scarring of the liver, is particularly concerning as it is irreversible and can lead to liver failure. 

The cardiovascular system is also at risk. Heavy drinking can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Drinking too much during the Thanksgiving season may disrupt the heart's rhythm and structure, leading to arrhythmias and cardiomyopathy, a condition commonly known as “holiday heart syndrome.” These conditions not only deteriorate a person’s quality of life but also significantly increase the risk of mortality.

Additionally, alcohol is a carcinogen and can damage DNA in cells, leading to mutations and cancer. Chronic alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer, including breast, liver, stomach, pancreatic esophagus, mouth, and throat cancer.

From a neurological perspective, alcohol affects neurotransmitters, the chemicals that transmit signals in the brain, disrupting mood and cognitive function. This can lead to mood disorders, memory loss, and impaired cognitive abilities. In extreme cases, chronic alcohol abuse can lead to severe and permanent brain damage.

The social and psychological impacts of alcohol abuse must also be considered. It can strain relationships, affect work performance, and lead to behavioral issues. Moreover, alcohol dependence or addiction is a serious mental health disorder requiring professional treatment.

While moderate alcohol consumption can be a part of celebrations for many, it’s crucial to be aware of the risks of excessive drinking. The immediate dangers of impaired judgment and coordination, coupled with the long-term risks of chronic disease, highlight the importance of moderation and awareness during festive occasions like Thanksgiving.

How To Celebrate Thanksgiving Without Alcohol

Celebrating Thanksgiving without alcohol can transform the holiday into a more inclusive and health-conscious event, while still retaining all the warmth and joy associated with the occasion. Here are detailed strategies for hosting or attending a Thanksgiving celebration without alcohol:

  • Create a mocktail menu. Crafting a selection of mocktails adds a fun and creative twist to your Thanksgiving celebration. Begin experimenting with recipes before the big day, combining fresh fruits, herbs, sparkling water, and other ingredients to create unique and refreshing drinks. Offer a diverse range, from fruity and sweet to tart and tangy, making sure there's a delightful option for every palate. Present these mocktails with the same care and flair as traditional cocktails — use fancy glasses, garnishes, and creative names to make them feel special. Don’t be afraid to have a little fun with them!
  • Practice saying “no.” It’s important to be assertive about your needs to avoid succumbing to peer pressure. Saying “no” to alcohol can at first be difficult. However, over time, it becomes easier with practice. Consider saying something like, “No thanks, I’m not planning on drinking tonight,” or, “I’ll pass on the alcohol, but I’ll still have some apple cider.” Remember that you don’t owe everyone an explanation, and that “no” is a complete sentence. 
  • Be open about your choices. If you're comfortable, openly communicate with your hosts or guests about your choice to avoid alcohol. This transparency can alleviate social pressure to drink and can also be an educational moment about the importance of healthy habits. Your decision might inspire others to consider their own drinking habits or to provide more non-alcoholic options at their events.
  • Bring your own beverages. If you're attending a Thanksgiving event, bring along your favorite non-alcoholic drinks. This not only ensures that you have something you enjoy drinking but also contributes to the variety of beverages available for everyone. From gourmet sodas to sparkling juices, there are numerous options that can feel just as festive as alcoholic drinks.
  • Plan activities. Organize engaging activities that focus on interaction rather than alcohol. This could include board games, a family talent show, a scavenger hunt, or even a group cooking session. Activities like these foster bonding and laughter, shifting the focus from drinking to making memorable experiences. 
  • Seek support. Maintain a connection with your support network during the holidays. Whether it’s a conversation with a trusted friend or attending a support group meeting, having a network to lean on can provide strength and reassurance during potentially challenging times. If you’re looking to connect with people in a similar boat, check out the anonymous community forum inside the Reframe app
  • Embrace mindful eating. Emphasize the culinary aspect of Thanksgiving. Engage in mindful eating — savor each bite, appreciate the textures and flavors, and relish the effort put into preparing the meal. This approach not only enhances the dining experience but also shifts focus away from drinking to the enjoyment of food.
  • Practice gratitude. Embody the true spirit of Thanksgiving by reflecting on what you are thankful for. Consider keeping a gratitude journal leading up to the holiday or sharing what you're thankful for during the meal. This practice not only aligns with the holiday's purpose but also reinforces positive emotions and appreciation for life’s blessings.

By incorporating these strategies, you can have a fun and healthy Thanksgiving without alcohol. Consider this an opportunity to redefine traditional celebrations and create new memories that focus on togetherness, appreciation, and health.

Thanksgiving and Alcohol: The Takeaways

Celebrating Thanksgiving while maintaining sobriety can be challenging, but it's also an opportunity to create new traditions and strengthen personal resolve. Over time, your decision to abstain from alcohol will pay off in the form of improved physical well-being, better emotional health, and stronger relationships. The short-term discomfort of saying “no” to drinks or choosing non-alcoholic alternatives is well worth it. Plus, you never know how many others you might influence to make similar changes. Your own actions can serve as a catalyst for change, leading the way to more balanced and healthy holiday celebrations in the years and decades ahead. 

This holiday, let's redefine what celebration means, focusing on the joy of togetherness, the richness of gratitude, and the fulfillment found in taking care of ourselves and our health. Remember, every step taken towards a healthier lifestyle is a reason to be thankful.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Why is alcohol consumption a concern during Thanksgiving? 

Thanksgiving often involves social gatherings where alcohol is readily available. This can be challenging for those of us managing alcohol use disorder or those who prefer to abstain for health reasons. Excessive drinking can also lead to immediate and long-term health risks, including impaired judgment and chronic health conditions.

2. What are some non-alcoholic alternatives I can offer at my Thanksgiving gathering?

Offering a variety of mocktails is a great alternative. You can create a special mocktail menu featuring festive, non-alcoholic drinks that are as appealing and sophisticated as alcoholic options. This not only supports guests who are avoiding alcohol but also adds a unique touch to your celebration.

3. How can I politely decline alcohol at a Thanksgiving event? 

Be honest and direct about your choice to avoid alcohol. You can simply say that you’re not drinking alcohol or that you prefer non-alcoholic beverages. Most hosts appreciate knowing their guests' preferences and will respect your decision.

4. What activities can I plan for Thanksgiving that don’t revolve around drinking? 

Plan engaging activities such as board games, card games, outdoor sports, or a movie marathon. These activities shift the focus from drinking to spending quality time together. You could also organize a cooking or baking competition, which can be a fun and inclusive way to engage everyone.

5. How can I support a family member who is avoiding alcohol during the holidays? 

Be understanding and supportive of their choice. Offer non-alcoholic beverage options and engage them in activities that don’t involve drinking. Avoid pressuring them to drink and respect their decision to maintain sobriety. Creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable regardless of their drinking choices is key.

Enjoy Alcohol-Free Holidays With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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