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Growing up, it seemed like every Fourth of July had a few things in common.
The smoky aroma of hot dogs and barbeque ribs. A lush carpet of grass cushioning hundreds of bare feet. A sea of peddlers, their tables adorned with glittering trinkets and American flags.
And, of course, lots and lots of booze.
Just think back to those good ole family reunions at the park. If you’re like most of us, chances are you had “that one relative” who drank one too many margaritas and landed themselves in a world of hurt. It might’ve been cousin Jimmy, drunkenly belting out Bon Jovi lyrics atop a wooden park bench; Nana, dishing out illicit gossip over a couple of cocktails; or Uncle Sam (who was anything but patriotic), howling after an errant firework blew off a chunk of his hand.
While most of the family would’ve liked to forget about “that one relative,” not even the rocket’s red glare could pry attention away from their shenanigans. It was enough to make the founding fathers roll in their graves.
Each Independence Day, millions of adults engage in similar booze-fueled festivities. But sadly, not everyone drinks to celebrate. For one thing, the thrill of visiting family can quickly dissolve into old conflicts and pounding headaches. Throw in sweltering heat and stressful crowds, and most of us would be begging for something to take the edge off.
What’s more, Independence Day falls smack-dab in the middle of summer vacation, which is every bit as exhausting for parents as it is exciting for children. With school out of session, parents suddenly find themselves balancing work, daycare, play-dates, and swim lessons. What could be better than the chance to let loose without spending an arm and a leg entertaining the kids?
“People are generally under a tremendous amount of stress,” said Claudia Christian, actress and founder of the C Three Foundation. “[Fourth of July provides] an excuse to kind of get out of their heads and not really think of the repercussions of it, like hangovers, DUIs, and lost days at work.”
Still, for all the relief alcohol offers, it’s easy to overdo it and come face-to-face with scary consequences. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Fourth of July claims an average of 118 American lives every year to car crashes—almost half of which due to alcohol. The number of firework injuries also skyrockets on the holiday (looking at you, Uncle Sam), along with alcohol-induced bike crashes, swimming accidents, and unsafe sex.
You might wonder what gets some people tangled into such embarrassing and potentially-dangerous drinking situations—or how to stop yourself from becoming the next cousin Jimmy. Part of the problem is that many people are confused about how much alcohol it takes to enjoy a holiday party.
Think about it. On one hand, some might feel obligated to drink heavily alongside their friends and relatives, even if they experience the effects of alcohol much more intensely. This leads them to believe they don’t have a choice in how much they drink, no matter how much danger it could place them in.
Other drinkers don’t realize there are alternatives to getting wasted at family gatherings. This is because oftentimes, they assume they’ll be pressured into abstinence if they reach out about their drinking. After all, who wants their autonomy (and go-to tool for relieving stress) to be snatched away from them?
What most never hear is that they have the choice to change their drinking habits. After all, since everyone has a different drinking limit, everyone deserves a unique plan for staying within it. This could mean figuring out how to stay safe at the parade; turning down drink offers past a certain point; or waiting until after the fireworks to make a toast with your spouse.
That’s right: you can still savor a few celebratory drinks without going hog wild or being a teetotaler.
“There’s a fine line between relaxing and having a couple of drinks, and getting hammered and humiliated…and screwing up your life,” notes Christian. “It just takes a little planning, like packing a suitcase.”
Ultimately, it’s your job to decide how to manage your drinking. No friendly advice, societal norms, or passing judgment should corner you into a solution you’re not comfortable with, because only you know what’ll work in the long-run. So take the Fourth of July as an opportunity to review your relationship with alcohol and, potentially, rethink your holiday drinking strategy.
If you do choose to drink less this year, consider the following tips:
- Drink double-fisted: Alcohol won’t quench your thirst, but a cool glass of water will. Sip booze for the flavor and water for the heat, then watch the amount you drink plummet.
- Eat, eat, eat: Just like water, a hearty meal can diminish the absorption of alcohol in your bloodstream and dull its mind-boggling effects. Make sure to fill up before and as you drink.
- Switch it up: Make your drink last by adding a flavorful mixer after each sip. A bubbly seltzer will also fill you up sooner while giving your drink a pleasurable pop. “Ask the bartender what they’re putting in each drink,” says Katie Lain, a volunteer with the C Three Foundation. “Maybe ask them to make it light.”
- Try an activity: As Christian points out, Independence Day is a time to visit family and friends—don’t make booze the main attraction. “Idle hands are the devil’s tools,” she notes. Instead, try brainstorming party games for adults and kids alike.
- Pair up: Ask a friend who shares your drinking goals to keep you both accountable. He or she should (thankfully) help you cut back on alcohol instead of urging you to down another shot.
- Pace yourself: In order to keep from going overboard, it’s always wise to drink slowly and infrequently. You could also swap every other beer for club soda if you fear disapproval.
- Deflect peer pressure: According to Lain, it’s easy to fall victim to pushiness at parties and down too many drinks. She recommends setting down beers from friends discretely instead of drinking them. “Be aware of the pressure that exists and don’t succumb to it,” says Lain.
- Consult a professional: If drinking has become a real challenge for you, an addiction specialist can help you slow down and devise a drinking plan for the day-of.
Film and television actress Claudia Christian created the C Three Foundation in 2013, and is a member of the advisory board of Ria Health. Post author John E. Mendelson, MD is the co-founder and chief medical officer of Ria Health.