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Many holiday family gatherings include alcohol as a main refreshment. And during the holiday season, indulgence—and sometimes even overindulgence—can be the norm rather than the exception. But sometimes, the subject of who drinks how much and when can be a touchy one.

When should you be concerned about a family member’s relationship with alcohol this holiday season, and what should you do to help?

Red Flags of an Alcohol Problem

First, it’s important to note that “alcoholism” is not a pass/fail diagnosis—from “problem drinking” to alcohol dependence to alcohol abuse, there is quite a gradient when it comes to alcohol problems. Often, intervening before a loved one’s struggle with alcohol crosses over into physical dependency can make treatment more manageable.

While holiday drinking-related behaviors aren’t always indicative of alcohol dependence, there are a few signs and symptoms family members can watch for. These include:

  • An inability to “just have one” or to abstain from drinking during social events. If your loved one often expresses a commitment to staying sober or limiting themselves to one drink during an event, but instead routinely drinks to the point of intoxication, this can indicate that they’re struggling with a physical or mental dependence on alcohol that they may need help to overcome.
  • Denial, defensiveness, or anger when the topic of drinking is raised. If you’re unable to have an honest conversation about drinking with your family member, this can be an early sign of a problem. For example, some people who are struggling with alcohol dependence will redirect any conversation about drinking into a conversation about another family member’s bad habits. By shining the spotlight on another person, they may believe that they can deflect any criticism of their own drinking.
  • Secret or “closet” drinking. Drinking alone, by itself, isn’t a sign of alcoholism. But if your loved one is drinking alone in secret, then continuing to drink in public or at family events, they may be attempting to hide their actual consumption to avoid concern or judgment. And for those who drink frequently enough to have a high threshold for intoxication, it can be fairly easy to mask a high blood alcohol content.

One important factor that can distinguish an isolated holiday overindulgence from an ongoing drinking problem is whether any of these signs are present on multiple occasions. There’s a difference between having a few drinks too many at one party, then sticking to a single drink (or no drink at all) at subsequent gatherings and someone who regularly “pre-games” or drinks to excess each time you’re around them.

How Can You Help a Loved One? 

If you’re wondering how you can throw a life raft to a family member you believe is struggling with alcohol, Bay Area Recovery Center (BARC) can help. It’s important for those who are in the grips of alcohol addiction to know that a life without alcohol dependency exists—and that they can access the tools to overcome it. BARC’s qualified addiction specialists can work with your loved one to create a custom plan for recovery.