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Families and Addiction: Coping During the Holidays

Holidays can be a joyous, celebratory time. However, for some, holidays are one of the most difficult times of the year. While the addiction epidemic rages on, there are many families that must cope with an addicted loved one during the holidays.

On top of the usual holiday frenzy and stress, dealing with an addicted family member can be chaotic. It can leave healthy family members feeling frustrated and disappointed. 

If you have a family member who is suffering from addiction, it could mean spending the holiday without him or her. On the other hand, it could mean spending your holiday trying to protect and help your loved one.

Often times, the challenges that come from substance abuse come to a head during the holidays. Despite how hard it may be, there are some steps you can take to bring yourself peace of mind during the season. 

Maintain Realistic Expectations

While you may be hoping for a sober holiday or Christmas miracle, it is important to maintain realistic expectations. Having realistic expectations is important to everyone’s wellness, especially during the holiday season.

After all, addiction is a chronic disease, and people who are in the grips of it will use compulsively. Usually, no amount of consequences will keep them sober. 

Having the whole family around may seem like an opportunity to confront your loved one’s addiction. However, planning an intervention during the holidays may be a bad idea.

Effective interventions require professional consulting and extensive planning. In addition, the holidays are a vulnerable time to attempt to tackle such a serious subject. 

Holding onto expectations that a family member should want to get sober or stay sober for the holidays can be harmful to your wellbeing. The inability of a family member to do so can create high levels of stress, frustration, and even resentment.

As a result, these feelings can take away from the joy of the holiday season. If your expectations are high, it can set you up for disaster.

Instead, you should try to love your addicted loved one right where they are. You can offer your support and be prepared with recovery resources in the event that they ask for help, but keep your mindset realistic. 

Develop New Holiday Traditions

Another way to deal with a loved one’s addiction during the holidays is to create new holiday traditions. If there have been sources of drama or conflict during past holiday get-together, new traditions can help you and your family avoid these triggers.

If your regular holiday traditions consist of spending time at home eating a big meal, playing games, and watching holiday movies, this year could be a time to change things up. Instead of spending idle time in the home, you can book your holiday full of new, exciting activities.

Stay busy to avoid triggers and conflict by viewing a light display, eating at a restaurant, spending time at a local park, going ice skating, or going to a religious service. Find out what local holiday events are happening near you to create a busy, fun-filled day. 

Spending time outside of the regular holiday environment can be a refreshing change. It can also provide the entire family with a chance to break away from past behaviors and avoid emotional triggers that can stir up conflict. 

Set Healthy Boundaries

Enforcing healthy boundaries with an addicted family member is critical year-round, however, it is more important than ever during the holidays. Remember that it is okay to say no and that it isn’t your responsibility to tolerate or fix your loved one’s behaviors.

If their behaviors go against your beliefs to defy what you feel comfortable tolerating, it is important to make your boundaries clear. 

Before the holidays, let your loved one know exactly what is unacceptable. For example, if you don’t want them to come to the gathering drunk, let them know that they will have to leave if they are drunk. When setting these boundaries, you are protecting yourself from potential harm.

Make the boundary and the consequences clear. Most importantly, be ready to stand by your boundaries. 

Learn to Let Go

In some cases, your loved one may not be joining you for the holidays. Whether it is the choice of the addict or of the family, spending the holiday season without your loved one can be difficult. You may be worried about their actions and miss their presence with you. When it comes to addiction, there are only so many things you can do to help your loved one.

It may be impossible not to worry, however, you shouldn’t let it destroy the holiday season. Instead, take some time to practice self-care. Some self-care strategies to keep in mind include getting enough sleep, getting regular exercise, eating a well-balanced diet, and taking time to relax by yourself.

In addition, you can also attend a local support group or al-anon meeting for family members of addicted loved ones. You, too, deserve support, especially during this time of year. 

Cassidy Webb is an avid writer who advocates spreading awareness on the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope.

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