Planning a Safe Holiday Party: Ways to Keep the Celebrations Joyous

Due to the dangers and liabilities involved, companies and individuals alike are coming to the realization that alcohol should not be the main attraction at holiday parties, and there are ways to organize fun, yet safe, festivities that will prevent family and friends from becoming the next alcohol- or drug-related statistic.

Traditionally, alcohol has been a big part of holiday celebrations, but today we know there is danger involved in providing “open bars” to anyone and everyone.


The percentage of alcohol- and drug-related traffic incidents increase dramatically during this time of the year.

In recent years, lawsuits have been successfully brought against employers, restaurants, bars and even friends of those who have died or been injured after leaving a holiday party or gathering, placing the liability for those deaths in the hands of those who serve the victims too much alcohol.

Consequently, communities, families, offices and students across the country are challenging the alcohol-based holiday party, according to The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information. The NCADI offers the following information in hopes of encouraging safer holiday gatherings.

Get the Party Started

  • Encourage lively conversation and group activities, such as games that keep the focus on fun – not on alcohol.
  • Prepare plenty of foods so guests will not drink on an empty stomach, and avoid too many salty foods which tend to make people thirsty.
  • Never serve alcohol to someone under the legal drinking age, and never ask children to serve alcohol.
  • Make it clear that no drug use will be tolerated.

If You Choose to Serve Alcohol

  • Offer a variety of non-alcoholic beverages for those who prefer not to drink alcohol. You could even have a contest to create non-alcoholic drink recipes.
  • If you prepare an alcoholic punch, use a non-carbonated base, like fruit juice. Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream faster with a carbonated base.
  • Don’t let guests mix their own drinks. Choose a reliable bartender, who abstains from alcohol while working and keeps track of the size and number of drinks that guests consume.

Before Your Guests Depart

  • Stop serving alcohol one hour before the party ends, because only time sobers an individual who has been drinking.
  • If some guests have too much to drink, drive them home or arrange for alternate transportation.
  • Keep the phone numbers of several cab companies handy.
  • Don’t let anyone who is obviously intoxicated drive. If they insist, take their keys, ask for help from other guests, or temporarily disable the car. If all else fails, call the police. Remember, you can be held responsible!

Facts to Remember

  • More than half of Americans are not current drinkers, so not everyone at your party will want to drink alcohol.
  • Impaired driving can occur with very low blood alcohol percentages. For most people,even one drink can affect driving skills.
  • Almost 40 percent of all holiday traffic fatalities involve alcohol.
  • Holidays are especially dangerous because more people celebrate by over-drinking, making themselves susceptible to alcohol-related troubles.
  • Coffee cannot sober up someone who has had too much to drink. Only time can do that. It takes one hour to metabolize one drink.

For more information on organizing alcohol-safe and drug-free parties, contact SAMHSA’s National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at 1-800-729-6686.

Source: NCADI. “Party Planning Tips.” Healthy Holidays November 2001.

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