Did you survive? Thanksgiving 2010 is now a memory, and I’m wondering how everyone faired. We are told that the biggest travel days of the year and the biggest shopping days of the year are all associated with this All-American holiday that always falls on a Thursday ensuring most people a four day weekend. Are you one of the millions who trekked over the river and through the woods to gather round Grandma’s table? Did you forego a good night’s sleep or any sleep at all to secure the Black Friday bargains? Did you eat a bit too much, drink a bit too much and perhaps have a few regrets as the dawn broke this Monday morning?

Thanksgiving also marks the official start to the holiday party season. More DUI traffic tickets are given in the five weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day than throughout the remainder of the year, in part because law enforcement agencies set up checkpoints and are focused on catching holiday revelers who decide to drive. Regular drinkers say that this time of year is when the amateurs come out to play. Many people who consider themselves non-drinkers throughout the year or who may only have a drink or two per week, may partake a bit too much in holiday cheer impairing otherwise sound judgments. And lives can be quickly, yet irreversibly changed, by just one small momentary lapse.

Yes, everyone reminds us to “drink responsibly” but is there such a thing, really; especially where driving is involved? This time of year also brings some of the worst driving conditions for much of the country as temperatures regularly stretch between 20 and 40°F. Precipitation can quickly change from ice to sleet to snow to freezing rain and then back again, and roads can look dry and actually be covered by a paper thin sheet of ice, often referred to as black ice. For novice drivers, these rapid changes in driving conditions are challenging enough, and when you add a beer or two to the mix, the results can be disastrous.

Anheuser-Busch bombards us with ads saying that having a Bud is “a sure sign of a good time,” and Miller Light says to drink their beer you must be “a real man.” Each and every ad campaign this holiday season involving alcohol shows that to have a good time, drinking must be involved. Television shows during primetime all depict adults relaxing with a glass of wine, a mixed drink or a beer; and movie after movie not only depicts drinking as normal and acceptable social entertainment, but often includes one or more people getting completely hammered and having a great time. Where smoking cigarettes is now completely taboo in all forms of media, drinking – and drinking heavily, has replaced it and is now an accepted and encouraged social activity.

Look I’m not a prude, but I learned a long time ago the high costs of drinking, even when it starts out as “responsible drinking.” Alcohol is a toxin and it begins to impair judgment the moment it is ingested. How someone will react to one or two drinks varies greatly from person to person and also can vary within the same person based on a number of factors: how much the person has eaten, what medications they may be taking, how much sleep they got the night before, what other drugs they are using, what kind of mood they are in, etc. Two shots a couple nights ago may have resulted in a giddy, upbeat person who was the life of the party; while two shots tonight may result in a depressed, anxious, angry person full of self-pity.

Drinking at any time is at best a crap shoot; as Forrest Gump might say, it’s “…like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” Most people admit to drinking and driving at least once in their life, but does that make them an alcoholic? Of course not, there is no such thing as an alcoholic! But what if this same person was stopped at a checkpoint and blew a 0.09 or a 0.12? Both of these BAL readings are more than the legal limit around the country and both can result in high fines, jail time, license suspension and/or mandatory 12 step meetings or outpatient or inpatient alcoholism treatment. What about the person who goes to the office Christmas Party after a particularly hard day at work and has a few too many; is too embarrassed or worried about his job to ask for a ride and stumbles out the door to drive home? Hopefully he will make it home safely, but there is the real potential he will not only ruin his own family’s Christmas, but he may destroy another family’s Christmas as well.

As you look to celebrate the season, please do not assume you must set good judgment aside to kick back, relax and have a good time. Please do not forget that your choices and actions affect those around you, especially those closest to you. And please do not assume that you must have lots of Budweiser at your party to “have a good time.” I have spent the last 20 Christmases and New Year’s Eves alcohol and drug free and each and every one has been wonderful and lots of fun!

If you do drink a bit too much and have that momentary lapse in judgment that results in severe consequences, please do not give in to the pressures to blame it on a disorder or disease because this does nothing to help you. Instead it strips you of your innate power to change it which is the only way you can ensure it doesn’t happen again.