The business calendar this time of year is filled with holiday parties, including the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce holiday party and the African American Chamber year-end meeting on Wednesday, December 17. The Princeton Chamber event takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Princeton Healthcare System at 1 Plainsboro Road, and the admission — $25 for member, $40 for nonmembers — includes an open bar. Visit www.princetonchamber.org. The African American event starts at 6 p.m. at the Big Easy on South Warren Street in Trenton and includes wine, beer, and a buffet dinner. Visit www.aaccnj.com.

There can be a dark side to such festivities. According to Elizabeth Epstein, research professor at the Rutgers University Center of Alcohol Studies, open bar events can be triggers for alcohol abuse. “There are many parties during the holidays and there’s usually a lot of alcohol,” says Epstein, who works with alcohol-dependent people to recognize triggers that may make it hard for them to say no. “And on the flip side, for people who have a limited social network, the holidays can be an extremely lonely and sad time, leading to increased drinking or relapse to drinking alone to cope with bad feelings. For someone who is alcohol-dependent, the holidays can be extremely difficult.”

To those who are trying to stay sober, Epstein advises them to focus on the food, holiday spirit, and company instead of the bar, and to nurse non-alcoholic beverages during these holiday gatherings. She says people who don’t want to drink alcohol need to be pleasant but assertive, telling the jovial but insistent party host no thank you to that holiday cocktail.

For those who rarely drink but say yes during the holidays, Epstein and her colleagues suggest eating before a night out, keeping to one drink per hour, drinking a non-alcoholic beverage between drinks, knowing when to stop, and making sure to have a designated driver. “Keep in mind that the more you drink, the worse your judgment is,” Epstein says. “Don’t trust yourself to get it right after you’ve had even one or two drinks.”

And, Epstein cautions, that a 12-ounce beer, five-ounce glass of wine and a shot of hard liquor all contain approximately the same amount of alcohol that an average adult can process in an hour.

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