November 26, 2018
Q: Someone I love suffers from addiction. What’s your advice for navigating the holidays?
A: Despite our lofty expectations, the holidays can be incredibly stressful and challenging. This is especially true when it comes to the disease of addiction.
It’s very common for people with addiction to have a really hard time around the holidays. This can lead to conflict or even recurrence (relapse). When my sibling was still struggling, we tried everything to make the holidays as calm and stress-free as possible.
My advice differs slightly depending on the situation and family, especially if the person with addiction is pursuing wellness or not. Here are just a few basic suggestions based on what’s worked in my family.
First and foremost, structure has made our holidays go smoother. For example, we play a family soccer game every Thanksgiving. We go bowling, attend local events – we plan activities with a focus on being active and together, rather than drinking alcohol. Staying busy usually helps.
One question I talk through with loved ones is the presence of alcohol at family events during the holidays. In my experience, having a totally “dry” holiday can backfire. The person with addiction may feel embarrassed or even angry. However, it might be a good decision for someone new in recovery. You have to decide what’s best for your family.
One thing I definitely recommend is not drinking with the person you’re concerned about. That’s one healthy boundary you can control. It also ensures someone will have a clear mind and be able to drive if necessary.
Lastly, I think it’s important for people to have realistic expectations surrounding the holidays. Know that some things are simply out of your control and the holidays can be a very tough time for people. I often tell loved ones to hope for the best, but keep expectations low. You can still plan ahead and implement structure, but having realistic expectations allows you to relax and hopefully remain happy with how things go.
The holidays are never perfect, whether you have addiction in your family or not. In other words, don’t set yourself up for failure with unrealistic goals. Remain positive and open-minded, plan ahead and expect unplanned things to take place.
Each family is unique, with different challenges and triggers. If you’d like more personalized feedback regarding your situation, please reach out and speak with a peer coach.