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Holiday Hangovers

For families across America, national holidays are occasions to gather, eat well, and – in many cases – get a little tipsy. Make that a lot tipsy, in fact: Americans spent $9.7 billion on beer and $4.8 billion on wine during the 2015 holiday season. While similar metrics aren’t recorded for drug consumption, it’s safe to assume some folks use their time off to partake in other substances as well. No one’s judging those who indulge in the holiday spirit (literally), but as with all things involving drugs and alcohol, danger lurks close behind the buzz. That’s why experts say intoxication contributes to a massive spike in injuries each holiday season, causing hundreds to spend their seasons of joy in serious pain.

We decided to analyze the risk of holiday harm by studying the rates of injury for Americans under the influence of drugs and alcohol on major holidays. Using data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, this project explores which holidays produce the most injuries to intoxicated persons, and which accidents occur most often. Our findings may cause you to reconsider just how heavily you sip the eggnog and think twice about attempting certain holiday traditions while wasted. Read on to learn how Americans under the influence get hurt during the holidays.

Harm for the Holidays

If your New Year’s resolution isn’t to cut back on excess, a drug- or alcohol-related injury may well change that. According to our data, 222 people suffered some ailment related to alcohol or drugs while celebrating the new year between 2010 and through 2016, an inauspicious start by any standard. Interestingly, just 131 people suffered intoxicated injuries on Christmas, less than a week prior. Perhaps the Yuletide vibes are slightly more relaxed than the raucous revelry we associate with New Year’s, creating fewer opportunities for wasted mishaps to take place.

Other injury-prone holidays occur in the warmer months, including the Fourth of July and Labor Day. While drunk driving is always a concern on these dates, a variety of other dicey situations might also occur when drugs and alcohol alter holiday traditions. Operating a grill while under the influence is never recommended, and swimming after substance use poses its own dangers. Additionally, igniting fireworks can prove plenty hazardous when sober, let alone while wasted.

Cocaine Occasions

Few drugs are as closely associated with excessive celebration as cocaine, so we analyzed which holidays prompted injuries related to that substance specifically. The Fourth of July took top billing for cocaine-related mishaps, and Thanksgiving came next. While turkey day is more often associated with a sleepy state resulting from carb-centric cuisine, it actually surpassed hardcore party holidays like New Year’s in cocaine-related injuries.

Interestingly, some holidays such as Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day actually saw fewer cocaine-related accidents than non-holidays. Perhaps St. Patty’s Day is so thoroughly associated with alcohol that cocaine is little more than an afterthought. The same could be said of Christmas, which historically coincides with elevated levels of alcohol consumption nationally.

Holiday Suffering by Sex

When we compared the holiday injury patterns of each gender, some interesting differences appeared. Women’s drug- and alcohol-related injuries, for instance, were most likely to take place on New Year’s, but men suffered most on the Fourth of July. The genders also diverged regarding Halloween danger, with women experiencing a greater percentage of injuries on that holiday than men. A day replete with fake bones and blood, it seems women have particular reason to be wary of frighteningly real injuries.

Both genders experienced a significant percentage of drug- and alcohol-related injuries on Labor Day, although the holiday represented a slightly larger total for men. Men also saw a larger portion of their injuries on Cinco de Mayo, although women had a greater percentage of their injuries occur on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Perhaps this disparity relates to an unequal distribution of cooking responsibilities: With women preparing holiday food far more often than men, they may be at a greater risk of being cut or burned while under the influence during these occasions.

Holiday & Alcohol-Related Accidents

While injuries can occur in many ways on each holiday, some household objects seem particularly troublesome on specific occasions. New Year’s produced ailments involving some of the home’s most essential features: It led all holidays in drug- and alcohol-related injuries regarding walls and ceilings, rugs and flooring, couches and chairs, and toilets. Cinco de Mayo exhibited a similar danger with regard to basic furnishings, leading all holidays in wasted encounters with doors and tables and counters. Thanksgiving saw the greatest percentage of injuries involving both stairs and exercise equipment – perhaps some folks attempt to work off the calories they’ve recently consumed while still under the influence.

Major summer holidays seemed prone to a more concerning type of intoxicated danger. Labor Day had the greatest percentage of injuries involving knives and also led all holidays in incidents involving porches and balconies. These troubling statistics were matched by the Fourth of July, which had the largest share of bicycle-related accidents, as well as those involving windows. Perhaps individuals under the influence lean too far while straining to see the fireworks, with potentially deadly consequences.

Wounds From Being Wasted

Americans’ faces are apparently at risk on New Year’s: The holiday accounted for the greatest share of intoxicated injuries to the head, face, ears, and mouth. It also proved a dangerous day for some parts of the upper body, leading all holidays in drug- and alcohol-related injuries to the hands, wrists, and shoulders. The Fourth of July wrought equivalent devastation below the waist, seeing the largest share of injuries to the knees, feet, and upper leg region. Independence Day also witnessed the most finger injuries, which may relate to fireworks exploding prematurely or before they are thrown.

Labor Day seemed most threatening to parts of people’s appendages, including the lower arm and lower leg, although the holiday also produced the most eye injuries. Perhaps the strangest pattern of drug- and alcohol-related incidents belongs to Thanksgiving, however, which produced the greatest portion of injuries to the pubic region. Short of steaming gravy spilling into one’s lap, it’s difficult to imagine how this particular type of accident might be correlated with turkey day. Thankfully, the holiday was otherwise relatively accident-free, aside from tying with Cinco de Mayo for upper arm wounds.

Intoxicated Accident Accounts

In these true and disturbing accounts of injuries on each holiday, the risk of excessive drinking and drug use becomes increasingly clear. Some accidents occurred due to a loss of motor control while drinking, including many trips and falls in public and at home. Other stories described how substances seemed to exacerbate anger and lower inhibitions, leading to physical altercations. Additionally, many of these tales involved the operation of a vehicle while under the influence, ranging from a bicycle to an ATV.

Still, other narratives revolved around attempts to conceal drugs, with disastrous consequences. Perhaps these encounters are unintended consequences of DUI checkpoints that many state and local governments enforce on holidays. With these enforced stops in place, substance users may find their cars under law enforcement scrutiny unexpectedly and attempt to hide their drugs in unfortunate ways.

Having a Healthy Holiday

While we’re not typically inclined to associate the holidays with hazards, our data prove revelry often entails increased risk. Sure, many of these circumstances seem more likely to produce humor than horror (steer clear of the treadmill after a few beers on Thanksgiving), but it would be foolish to dismiss the real dangers of heavy drinking or drug use during the holidays. We hope our findings help you practice a little caution alongside your celebration this year. After all, staying safe will sure be a lot more fun than a holiday spent in the hospital.

Holidays are also a time when many families contend with a challenge of a different kind: a loved one with an alcohol use disorder. If you or someone you love needs help now, is your source for research and resources related to alcohol misuse and treatment. We’re here for you at any time, including the holidays.


This project employs data on drug- and alcohol-related injuries occurring on holidays from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), a national probability sample of injuries reported by American hospitals. Our data is from 2010 through 2016. For holidays spanning more than one day (such as New Year’s Eve and Day), we divided the number of injuries by the number of days to better compare injury rates with single-day holidays. We also included a “non-holiday” control, which reflects the total number of injuries occurring on a random day in each year of data included.

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