The holidays can be a difficult time for addicts and their families. While they are a time when families come together and support each other, they can also be a time of elevated stress, leading to unhealthy behavior. For alcoholics in particular, advertising of holiday tipples and the pressure to drink can also lead to a relapse.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to support people with addictions and reduce the risk of a relapse.
Handling Addiction During the Holidays
Consider Family Therapy
No matter how supportive your family is, the roots of addiction often lie in the past. Family therapy can help everyone deal with issues that can lead to stress and addiction…and can result in a happier time spent around the dinner table.
Family therapy should not single out specific individuals, which rapidly turns into judgment. Rather it should be about improving all of the relationships in your family.
Bring a (Sober) Friend
For Thanksgiving in particular, the person in recovery may benefit from bringing along a friend who can help them avoid pressure from family members. Having somebody there who understands what they are going through can be a particular benefit, so somebody from their or your support group is ideal.
Dry Out Dinner
If alcohol is an issue, then having a dry Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is always the best option. Sparkling cider or grape juice is a great alternative, or you can make fall or Christmas mocktails. Hot cider can make a great alternative if you normally have punch. Save the alcohol for a time when the addict isn’t around. Alcohol is a particular concern, with relapse rates climbing during the holidays.
And, of course, make sure that nobody comes to dinner high and that the person’s drug of choice is kept well and truly out of the house, regardless of whether it is legal.
Discourage going out to party on New Years. Instead, go to a First Night celebration. Most communities have these and they are open to families with children and thus by definition dry. (Also they tend to be mostly outdoors, which this year might be a significant factor). Remind people not to talk about New Years plans that might involve alcohol or drugs. Consider arranging a home celebration instead, such as a movie night or board game night.
Help your loved one avoid activities that are particularly stressful for them. Start talking about this long before the holidays. For example, doing Christmas shopping early rather than waiting for the last minute can be a good idea for most of us.
If they don’t want to do something or go somewhere, don’t put pressure on them. They’re probably avoiding the activity for a reason. Keeping things low key also helps avoid substitution, such as eating a ton of sugar cookies instead of reaching for the substance.
Talk to them about their addiction triggers and help them avoid those situations (or people), even if it means you have to invite different people to different celebrations.
Distract from Cravings
Cravings are best dealt with by distractions. Make sure that you have something the person in recovery can do if they need a distraction; you can have them help with cooking, baking, or decorating.
This doesn’t mean give them “chores,” but rather open the door to involve them in activities. Talk to them about what they think will help the most.
The holidays are a difficult and stressful time; often the fun is entwined with increases in stress and anxiety, and with people being so busy that they don’t have time to stop and support others. This contributes to higher relapse rates, but if you give your loved one the proper support they can get through the holiday season healthy and sober.