How Holiday Drinking Can Hurt Your Thinking

Tis’ the season to eat, drink and be merry!

As we celebrate the holidays, we often find ourselves joyously hopping from party to party.

At each stop, we consume more and more cocktails.

We all know how lousy we feel after a night of binge drinking, defined as over three drinks within a 3-hour period.

We experience:

  • dehydration
  • raspy voices
  • headaches
  • feeling sluggish
  • skin breakouts

Whether it’s champagne, wine, spirits, or beer, consumption is higher during this festive time of year.

How does all of this holiday binge drinking hurt our thinking?

What are the effects of binge drinking on the brain?

How can we enjoy a few holiday cocktails without it having terrible (and even embarrassing) consequences?

Dr. Sanam Hafeez PsyD, an NYC-based licensed clinical psychologist, teaching faculty member at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College and the founder and Clinical Director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, shares a list of characteristics associated with binge drinking.

She also explains what happens within the brain leading to these experiences.

Also, check out our collection of quotes about alcohol to inspire responsible drinking.

5 Negative Effects of Holiday Binge Drinking:

1. Personality changes.

Who we are sober may change significantly with alcohol. 

According to Hafeez, when we consume alcohol, there’s a quick increase in dopamine, a brain neurochemical responsible for that “high,” feeling that makes a typically shy person hit the dance floor.

“When you exceed three drinks over a 3-hour period, there’s simply more alcohol entering the bloodstream, significantly reducing inhibitions.

This explains how a calm, even-tempered person will become angry and even pick fights when imbibed,” explains Hafeez.

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2. Inappropriate or “bad behaviors.”

This is the personality change taken to another less appealing level.

Behaviors such as drunk texting, making sexual advances towards co-workers or friends’ spouses, physical altercations, and drunk driving come into play.

“When you stick to two drinks over a 3-hour period with a glass of water in between, you remain much more in control.

What’s interesting to note, too, is that a lot of people use alcohol as a justification for the bad behaviors they really want to live out when sober,” says Dr. Hafeez.

There’s the expression, “a drunk person’s words are a sober person’s thoughts.”

Not wanting to reach out to an ex at two in the morning could serve as big motivation to limit your binge drinking.

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3. Slurred speech. 

When you have more to drink, alcohol begins to impact the central nervous system, and it’s communication with the brain.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of alcohol for a shift in speech to take place.

Information going from the brain to the mouth is impaired on a neurological level.

“What’s more alarming here is that the more a person binge drinks, the quicker their speech becomes slurred.

Slurred speech is more of a symptom of the cumulative effect of alcohol on the brain,” cautions Dr. Hafeez. 

4. Trouble with balance and walking.

This has to do with alcohol’s impact on the cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for motor functions, specifically balance and movement.

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Most women will blame a stumble on their high heels.

Men may lean on another person while talking or hold onto a chair, the edge of the bar, or another surface they feel will support them.

Pay attention to these signs. “Doing several shots of alcohol or simply ingesting alcohol quickly will impact balance fast!

Again, it has to do with the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream, reaching the brain, and the impact on the neurotransmitters. You’re messing with your brain chemistry in a profound way during binge drinking,” warns Dr. Hafeez.

5. Memory loss.

Ever notice how after a weekend of partying, you may lose your keys, misplace your credit card, or forget the main details on a work assignment? That spacey forgetfulness is due to shrinking brain mass.

According to Dr. Hafeez, “when you mess with neurotransmitters, you’re messing with cognitive function, which includes memory. Alcohol throws off brain chemistry in the hippocampus, a key spot in the brain helping us formulate memories.

If you’re noticing blackouts where you forget leaving a party, how you got home or other details of the timeline, that’s a sign you’re drinking too much or too quickly.”

binge drinkingSo how can we enjoy holiday parties without making fools of ourselves or worse?

While it’s certainly ok to enjoy a cocktail, beer, or some wine, too much takes a toll.

Dr. Hafeez suggests having a pre-party plan.

Decide in advance where you are going, how long you plan to be there, and what you will drink.

Eat something beforehand and drink water.

You want to have a full stomach and remain hydrated.

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Transportation apps like Uber or Lyft are far better options than driving drunk.

“If you are noticing it difficult not to curtail binge drinking, find alcohol as a necessary evil to cope with the holidays, then speak to a professional. You may be suffering from holiday-related anxiety, stress or depression which is common,” advises Dr. Hafeez.

Dr. Sanam Hafeez PsyD is an NYC-based licensed clinical psychologist, teaching faculty member at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College, and the founder and Clinical Director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, P.C. a neuropsychological, developmental, and educational center in Manhattan and Queens. 

Dr. Hafeez masterfully applies her years of experience connecting psychological implications to address some of today’s common issues, such as body image, social media addiction, relationships, workplace stress, parenting, and psychopathology (bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, etc…). In addition, Dr. Hafeez works with individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), learning disabilities, attention and memory problems, and abuse. 

Dr. Hafeez often shares her credible expertise with various news outlets in New York City and frequently appears on CNN and Dr.Oz.

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