Reducing harm for the holidays

Enjoying an alcoholic drink may seem natural during the holiday season, but saying no sometimes isn’t.

Care Plan facilitator Kristen Denine Mogridge, left, coordinator Sherri Payne, centre, and social work student Hunter Richardson are part of the Managed Alcohol Program from the St. John’s Status of Women Council. They aim to give people the resources to become sober if they choose. Madison Ryan/Kicker

Madison Ryan

Lights, gifts, carols and oftentimes, a drink or two. The holiday season has plenty to offer, but there’s a certain pressure that can come with the abundance of festive beverages. 

Quitting alcohol was an easy transition for Melanie Fleming, an educator in Conception Bay South. She never considered herself a heavy drinker in the first place, so when she had to cut it out due to a medication she takes, life went on as normal. 

“My first Christmas, it felt a bit different,” she said. “Culturally, people will have (Christmas) slush in their house for Christmas … I missed it a little bit. After the first time going through the holidays, it didn’t bother me or affect me anymore.”

That first Christmas was in 2019. In that time, Fleming says she’s noticed some external pressures that could very well encourage people to drink too much during the holiday season. 

Sherri Payne, the coordinator of the St. John’s Status of Women Council’s Managed Alcohol Program, recognizes it too. 

“I think that everyone’s relationship with alcohol is really complex, and it’s very individualized,” said Payne. “But during the holiday season, there’s obviously high times of stress, financial stressors, interpersonal stressors. So all those barriers that are normally there for people are elevated.”

Since she stopped drinking, Fleming has become more aware of the prominence of seasonal advertising for alcohol. The festive flavours and the idea of having a fancy drink are attractive to many people, she says, but non-alcoholic beverages have become commonplace. On the other hand, Fleming has been subject to questions about her choice, even though it was out of her hands. 

“Alcohol, I think, isn’t essential to enjoy your holiday gatherings.”

– Melanie Fleming

People close to Fleming’s age – who is in her 30s – have been generally accepting of the fact she doesn’t drink, and have slowly stopped asking questions, she says. However, when her husband chose to avoid alcohol, those questions came back, but from the older generation. 

“Before people knew that I wasn’t drinking … there would be questions.”

Those questions stem from a drinking culture that every Canadian province seems to have, according to Payne. She says it’s a matter of lost information.

“Think about how tobacco is marketed versus alcohol,” Payne said. “Legally, you have to have the harms (health warnings) on the packaging. There’s more education around that and with alcohol, there’s not. I feel like there has to be a big focus on public education – I don’t think people truly know the negative health impacts associated with alcohol.”

However, Payne says alcohol consumption certainly isn’t always a negative thing. Some people may feel obligated to partake when a family member has a glass of wine, but abiding by a personal limit is important. 

Kristen Denine Mogridge, also on the Managed Alcohol Program team. She says abstinence isn’t always the go-to approach for being responsible with alcohol. Much of their work is done through a lens of harm reduction. This way, people aren’t forced to be sober, but they’re given the resources to be sober.

“You can think of harm reduction in something as simple as wearing a seatbelt or a helmet when you’re on your bike,” Payne said. “It’s just an acknowledgement that you’re going to do things that might potentially put yourself in danger, but you’re going to do it in the safest way possible.”

When alcohol is a part of holiday gatherings, there are ways to avoid overconsumption. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse recommends women have no more than two drinks on most days, and men should have less than three. What constitutes a “drink” varies, but precise guidelines can be found on their website

About Madison Ryan 20 Articles
Madison Ryan is an award-winning fiction writer, a music reviewer and a student journalist. She loves escaping into fantasy stories, but she’s dedicated to telling the real-life stories that matter to our communities. Contact her at @madisonjryan on Twitter/X with news tips.

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