November 24th, 2008
03:24 PM ET

Managing holiday party behavior

By Jen Pifer
CNN Medical Senior Producer

I love the television show "The Office." In one of my favorite episodes, Dunder Mifflin has its annual holiday party. The party ends up being a dud, so the boss, Michael Scott, brings in booze. Pam Beesly, the receptionist, is skeptical. "You realize that we can't serve liquor at the party?" she says. Michael replies, "Yeah, I know. Dammit. Stupid corporate wet blankets. Like booze ever killed anybody."

The party gets crazy. People get drunk. People make out. The episode ends with Meredith, one of the employees, walking into Michael's office with no shirt.

Chances are you will attend a holiday party in the next few weeks. And according to a recent survey, many of these parties get out of control. Caron Treatment Centers works with people who have drug or alcohol problems. It recently conducted a survey that found 64 percent of people who attend holiday work parties witness alcohol-induced “bad behaviors” such as flirting with co-workers, starting fights and drunken driving. And with all the bad news recently, experts say overimbibing may only get worse. "When alcohol prompts bad behavior at holiday celebrations, that can indicate something more serious is lurking," says Harris Stratyner, regional vice president of Caron Treatment Centers. "The state of the world today only increases vulnerability to holiday alcohol abuse and longer-term problems."

So what can you do to deal with holiday party peer pressure? Experts say if you do choose to drink, make sure you do it on a full stomach and that you alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones. Also, it's smart to have a designated driver, even if you plan to just have a couple of drinks.

I want to know what you think: do you think holiday parties encourage people to over-indulge? Do you have a strategy when it comes to holiday parties? Have you ever witnessed bad behavior at an office party?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

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soundoff (587 Responses)
  1. Melissa, Los Angeles

    We're all responsible for what we put into our bodies so no I don't think holiday parties encourage people to over-indulge – people use it just as an excuse. I've witnessed bad behavior at office parties and usually that person is let go within a couple of months. If a person wants to act like an idiot – do it around friends and not co-workers.

    November 24, 2008 at 16:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. pat

    Apparently the people that get "out of hand" at a holiday party at work do not get out much. If you are a "special occasions" drinker than you most likely will not be used to the effects of alcohol and taking the chance to drink too much in front of coworkers and supervisors is not a good idea. I don't mind work parties but that is not where I do the bulk of my partying. Work parties are more of an obligation, not an occasion I look too forward to and most likely will stay only for a short time.

    November 25, 2008 at 11:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Toni

    I've made it a personal policy to NEVER drink during holiday office functions. It's easier to be the designated driver. I've witnessed flirting, crying, arguing and people becoming sick. It's not worth it.

    November 25, 2008 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. pat

    One way to avoid all that. When I drink alone, I prefer to be by myself.
    You said it. If you know you may act like an idiot, do it in front of your friends, not co workers.

    November 25, 2008 at 14:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Rebecca

    I believe that there are two factors that contribute to office party overindulgence. First is the role of alcohol as a social lubricant – we don't talk to our coworkers very much the rest of the year, so anxiety over what on earth we can actually talk about is a real problem. Alcohol is seen as the magic relaxation medicine, and it doesn't hurt that most people think they are much wittier and attractive when they have had a few. Though, the more nervous you are (as Pat said, especially those who don't get out much), the harder it will be to stop at a few.
    Second, television and movies reinforce the idea of an office holiday party as a chance to let loose, almost like a frat party. There's a media-induced peer pressure that if you don't drink, you're missing out on the fun that all these other people have. In the fantasy world, illicit happenings lead to wondrous affairs and excitement. In the real world, anything illicit that happens at an office party will make for a very uncomfortable working environment and at least one person involved quitting or getting fired. Some people will hope the party is a chance to make some sort of romantic connection (aided by the social lubricant effect), since work has become the majority of their lives and they don't have any other dating scene.
    It would seem to make more sense to just keep alcohol out of any official work function.

    November 25, 2008 at 16:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Lauren Conley

    Well, due to the economy, my employer is downgrading it's holiday luncheon (never was any booze) to a platter of cold cuts. Never mind that it's a multi-million dollar corporation that owns a pro sports team. Oh well, I guess I can always throw some baloney at the boss...reversing things, for once.

    November 25, 2008 at 20:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. John

    I believe that it is responsibility of all people at a party to see that their co-workers and friends are safe, both at the party and getting home. We have all been the victims of our own stupidity on one level or another. It is uncomfortable to intervene, it is more uncomfortable to read of a friend and/or co-workers demise the day after. If you feel like you need to step in, then probably you should, it's worth the risk.

    November 27, 2008 at 08:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Robbin

    I have never been to a company party where booze was present that some guests did not get wild. One year 2 people ended up pregnant and a guy threw up in the punch bowl. Another, someone robbed the bosses medicine cabinet and got away with some very strong pain pills. Everyone there was too drunk to notice or remember anything!There was an ongoing investigation that never got solved. Since then I have chosen to pass on socializing with co-workers when alcohol is involved. The two don't mix. It is a very bad idea to include alcohol and take the chance of seeing such casual aquaintances true colors surface. People look forward to, and talk about the big bash all year. They can't wait to see who makes a jackass of themselves. As for me count me out.

    November 29, 2008 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Ratna, New York, NY

    Dear Jen,

    The only Holiday at which intoxication is involved is New Year's. But we are responsible to our friends. The way we celebrate this is like a pyama party at which we take our camping gear out in the livingroom and encourage everyone to sleepover, instead of drunk driving. There is lot of left-overs and tylenol for the hang-over the morning after.

    November 29, 2008 at 15:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jonathan

    Every year there is one particular person in our office who gets sloppy drunk at the office Christmas party and this person always ends up ruining the evening for almost everyone else. We are all sick to death of the behaviour but no one knows how to address it.

    December 15, 2008 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Eric

    I think holiday parties are the result of everyone feeling guilty that if they don't go, they will be perceived as anti-social. Sometimes a well placed excuse is better than going to a party where you're with people that you only socialize with at work (because if you wanted to socialize with them out of work – you would have!)

    I don't see the benefit of eating too much, drinking too much and possibly doing something stupid.

    A better idea is to have a gathering at the office, or at the montly meeting, have food, give out certificates of appreciation – and offer a plan to donate the cost of the party to a local charity.

    Happy Holidays.

    December 17, 2008 at 07:57 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.