Max Pemberton: Don’t get bullied in 12 days of heavy drinking!

Saying no to alcohol can be difficult. There is tremendous social pressure on us to overeat at Christmas, even if it’s only at home with family, pressure we may not fully appreciate until we try to say no.

I know my partner has a hereditary liver condition and can’t drink, and I’m regularly amazed at the way people still try to push alcohol into him, despite the health effects. I’ve seen people become very insistent and obnoxious when he makes it clear he’s not going to indulge in it.

It is similar to a recovering alcoholic friend. Although she was very clear about why she shouldn’t drink, people still tried to convince her that “one wouldn’t hurt”. Yes, indeed.

What is the problem with people? Whether or not you drink should be entirely up to the individual.

In many ways, I believe that people’s reaction to your saying “no” to alcohol can reflect their psychological issues around drinking and the role alcohol plays in their lives. They inadvertently hold a mirror to themselves and their relationship with wine and this can make them feel uncomfortable.

So, if you don’t want to drink or indulge too much this season—and while party season has been cut back a lot, there are still plenty of smaller get-togethers to go around—here are the eight tips to help you avoid alcohol this Christmas.

NHS psychiatrist Dr Max Pemberton shares his top eight tips for avoiding alcohol this Christmas (file photo)

You don’t only have one

Make a clear commitment not to drink beforehand. If you go to a friend’s house with a vague idea of ​​”Okay, maybe I’ll get one if I feel like it,” you’re more likely to give up and have a drink. Once you get one, it’s likely to persist and things will deteriorate, leading to morning regrets. Don’t fall into this trap.

Be clear with yourself that you do not want to drink at all and plan in advance how you will deal with any temptations that you will encounter throughout the day or evening. Remind yourself why you decided not to drink – past bad experiences, health, weight loss – whatever your motivations.

Tell the host early

If you can, give the host a heads up so they are aware. This increases the likelihood that they are taken into account when initially serving drinks, and if they are good hosts, they will step in if people insist on drinking later. They may also let you know about other guests who won’t be drinking, so you can find an ally when you’re there.

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If you’re at a party with a group of people you don’t know well, stick to filtered drinks with ice and a slice of lemon or lime. People will assume it’s gin or vodka and a tonic and stop asking you what you’re drinking. By not drawing attention to the fact that you are not drinking, you will avoid any unwanted discussions about why.


Even if you tell the host you don’t drink, don’t assume he’ll meet your needs. Even if they did, they probably didn’t think much of getting mixers for you to drink. My partner always brings a non-alcoholic alternative with him.

Seedlip—available in Waitrose, Sainsbury, and Tesco—is a delicious selection of non-alcoholic spirits that make beautiful cocktails.

If the rest of the party is drinking wine, Jukes Cordialities (, a line of non-alcoholic smoothies created by Mail’s wine expert, are made with apple cider vinegar and make a smart alternative. They have a complex adult taste and it will look like you’re holding a glass of wine just like everyone else.

Don’t pay for it

If you are going to a meal and not drinking, don’t feel obligated to pay the same amount as everyone else.

Dr. Max (pictured) said you don't owe it to anyone to explain why you shouldn't drink, but you have an excuse if the reason is sensitive.

Dr. Max (pictured) said you don’t owe it to anyone to explain why you shouldn’t drink, but you have an excuse if the reason is sensitive.

If you’re upset about paying for alcohol for others when you’re quitting, that’s totally fine. Explain ahead of time that you do not drink and therefore only pay for what you order. Ask to see the bill as it arrives before splitting it to save any hassle. If you go with a partner or friend, get them to talk too and remind everyone that you haven’t been drinking, and therefore should pay less.

You have a story ready

If you feel comfortable talking about why you shouldn’t drink, think about what you would say and you’ll be happy to share. Most reasonable people just ask out of curiosity and will accept what you have to say and move on. People usually take the lead from the other person, so if you don’t do much of that, they usually won’t either. Explain your reasons, then move the conversation.

… or make excuses

If the reason why you can’t drink is sensitive, you have an excuse to hand it in just in case. Maybe you have a workout planned in the morning, or you have to get up very early or be the designated driver in the evening.

Be polite and firm

Remember, you don’t owe anyone an explanation of why you shouldn’t drink. If you don’t want to share the reason, that’s fine. It is none of their business.

True friends will accept your decision and will not pressure you. If people are bothering you, be polite but firm and if people keep insisting, walk away. And remember: you can still have a merry Christmas without being ‘merry’.

Just admit you’re wrong, Ben

Dr. Max said many people struggle to accept that they are responsible for drug abuse.  Pictured: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez

Dr. Max said many people struggle to accept that they are responsible for drug abuse. Pictured: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez

Ben Affleck blamed his troubles on being “trapped” in his marriage to ex-wife Jennifer Garner. There are many reasons why people turn to drinking, drugs, or any number of unhelpful behaviors. But why do we often feel the need to point fingers? There is a difference between understanding the reason for your behavior and evading responsibility.

I’ve seen this a lot when I worked in drug and alcohol services. Many people have had difficult or traumatic pasts. But they often struggled to accept that they were still responsible for the fact that they chose to use substances to numb the pain. You cannot spend your life looking back and blaming others for something you choose to do now. One of the best things about your emotional growth is acknowledging the problems in your life and accepting the role you play in perpetuating them. Being responsible is scary. But it’s also incredibly liberating. Only then can we also realize that we can make a different choice in the future.

  • A report by Ofsted warned that nearly all children have been left behind by Covid. Pupils decline in language skills, social interaction, and physical dexterity. We must take this seriously. We need a targeted action plan. Teachers’ unions won’t like this, but surely this is a reason to do something drastic – extend the school day for the next two semesters, or reduce summer vacation. This isn’t a permanent change, just a readjust so we can repair the damage done to Covid. We have already lost a lot to this pandemic, and we cannot sacrifice the development of the younger generation either.

Dr. Max describes…

Boxing Day Parade

Dr. Max recommends taking your wells on this Boxing Day for a walk, following research that trees are good for our mental health (file photo)

Dr. Max recommends taking your wells on this Boxing Day for a walk, following research that trees are good for our mental health (file photo)

Research published by Forest Research and funded by the Forestry Commission, Scottish Forests and the Welsh Government has revealed just how beneficial trees can be for our mental health. For England alone, it is estimated that forests save £141m in costs associated with mental illness, including GP visits, prescriptions and days lost due to mental health issues. So pull your bar on this boxing day and go for a walk in the woods.

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