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Brain Injury, Alcohol and the Holidays

Brain Injury Blog 

Alcohol, Brain Injury, Caregiving, and Holidays

by Janelle Breese Biagioni

Drinking carries risks for survivors and caregivers.

Alcohol often flows freely during the holidays. Food and beverages, especially alcohol, are major components of celebrations and festivities. Christmas and New Years are a week filled with opportunities to partake in both. Although we know moderation is key for everyone, it is ultra-important for people living with a brain injury and/or the caregiver who is exhausted and coping with a range of emotions.

There are so many expectations around this time of year. We often want things to be perfect. We want to relax and have fun. Survivors and family members remember their pre-injury life where things were likely different both financially and in their relationships. Mix these stresses with multiple drinks, escalating emotions, a drop in inhibitions and it’s no wonder disaster strikes. What is more surprising is that often people just think it won’t happen!

Don’t assume that everyone will be on their best behavior or be able to control their emotions once alcohol starts to flow through the veins. Alcohol can change a person’s behaviors. Moreover, those with a brain injury may be very sensitive to alcohol and after one drink they may feel and behave as though they have consumed three. For the caregiver, although he or she may feel somewhat relaxed after a drink or two, emotions may come to the surface. It’s not uncommon for the tears to trickle and/or things to be said that one would rather have not said. I’m all for clearing the air when things have been bottled up. I’m just don’t think the time to do it is when alcohol is involved.

If you feel up to being social, but want to refrain from drinking spirits, be honest with your family and friends. Explain, “I think it would be better for me to not have any alcohol. (I am feeling a little fragile and don’t know how it will affect me, or since my brain injury, I find alcohol really hits me.) Could I have some water and lemon (or tea, or soda etc.) instead?” I doubt anyone would mind and if they do, then they clearly have their priorities wrong.

If you are the host or hostess, be prepared to have a selection of non-alcoholic drinks to serve those who either shouldn’t be drinking or decline to drink. Your job is to make sure everyone has a good time and creating an atmosphere they feel comfortable and not pressured in will be greatly appreciated.