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.
Why Do People Drink Too Much on July 4th?
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. Staying sober on 4th of July can feel like a big challenge.
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, C Three Foundation founder, and Ria Health advisor. “[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 due to car crashes—almost half of which are linked to alcohol.1 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.
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How Can You Drink Less, or Have a Sober 4th of July?
So, how can you avoid all of this potential danger and embarrassment, and have a more moderate—or even sober—4th of July?
For starters, you should be aware of how much alcohol will actually make you drunk, and how quickly. Most people can process alcohol at a rate of roughly one drink per hour. This means that if you drink more quickly than that, you’re likely to become intoxicated. Also, the definition of moderate drinking is up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks for men. If you wish to drink on July 4th without going overboard, take this into account in choosing your limits.
If you’ve committed to sobriety, your drink limit is already pretty clear: Zero. But sticking to an alcohol-free holiday can be hard with so much booze flowing around you. Here are some strategies to keep in mind for a sober 4th of July:
- Bring a sober buddy so you have someone to talk to when things get challenging
- Carry a plastic cup filled with a nonalcoholic beverage to reduce drink offers
- Get involved in planning or running the event, which will keep you busy
- Have an exit plan, or a good excuse for leaving if the pressure is too much
7 Tips To Control Fourth of July Drinking
What if you do still want to drink—you just don’t want to get wasted? For many, with the right strategy, this is a real possibility.
“There’s a fine line between relaxing and having a couple of drinks, and getting hammered and humiliated” notes Claudia Christian. “It just takes a little planning, like packing a suitcase.”
Try the following tips to control how much you drink on July 4th:
- Drink double-fisted: Alcohol won’t truly 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.
- Dilute your drinks: 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 of Embody Daily. “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. Instead, try brainstorming party games, or helping with the event.
- Pair up: Ask a friend who shares your drinking goals to be your accountability partner. That way, you’ll have a friend encouraging you to hold back instead of urging you to down another shot.
- Deflect peer pressure: According to Katie Lain, it’s easy to fall victim to pushiness at parties. “Be aware of the pressure that exists and don’t succumb to it,” says Lain. Instead, have some good excuses ready. If all else fails, discretely put the drink down when no one is looking.
- 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.
We’ve all seen drunken hijinks on Independence Day that we’d rather forget—and some of us may have even been the ringleaders. But if you’d rather forgo the July 5th embarrassment this year, sticking to the above guidelines and strategies should keep you out of harm’s way.
That said, sticking to moderate drinking isn’t easy for everyone, and there’s no shame in asking for help. Ria Health offers online support that can help you establish healthier drinking patterns year-round, long after the fireworks have faded. Learn more about how it works.
Film and television actress Claudia Christian created the C Three Foundation in 2013, and is a member of the advisory board of Ria Health. Katie Lain is the founder of Embody Daily and co-founder of Thrive Alcohol Recovery.
This article was originally written in 2018 by Kimberly Nielsen, and updated by Evan O’Donnell.