The holidays can be difficult to navigate as an addict or the loved one of an addict.
Whether you’re only realizing you may have a substance abuse problem, starting early sobriety, or you’ve been in recovery for years— the holidays can still be a triggering and stressful time.
For addicts, being around family and friends can be helpful or a sometimes precarious experience.
Likewise, if you’re a family member of an addict, it is important to know how relationships are affected by substance abuse and addiction. It is also important that you examine what role you might play in supporting, enabling, or unintentionally causing harm to your loved one.
Prepare for the holiday season by learning ways you can help yourself and recovering loved ones stay sober through the holidays.
Getting Help Before the Holidays
If you think you might be struggling with substance abuse before the holidays, there is a chance carrying on through the holiday season could make it worse. With the holidays can come depression, isolation, and heavy abuse of alcohol and drugs.
Making the decision to enter a detox program during the holidays may just save your life.
If you think this might be you or someone you love— first, check in with yourself or them. Substance use may be a problem if it’s starting to creating negative consequences in your or your loved one’s life, such as
- Problems at work (missing work, using on the job, poor work performance)
- Problems with your loved ones (arguing over substance use, missing commitments)
- Problems with the law (using and driving, getting arrested or DUI)
- You must drink or use a substance to get through your day or to be able to sleep
- You drink until you pass out (don’t remember what you have done)
You’re not alone, and you can get help. Please call Pacific Crest Trail Detox at (855) 704-5552 today and begin your recovery journey with skilled 24-hour care from nurses and staff that will help you overcome your dependency on alcohol or drugs.
Staying Sober During the Holidays
For those of you who have already begun your recovery journey, getting through the holidays and being able to maintain your addiction recovery balance is not easy.
If you are the addict, the added stress that surrounds commitments to family, financial pressures, and everything else that goes along with the holidays can be enough to make you relapse.
If you are the family member supporting the alcoholic or drug addict’s recovery during the holidays you are going through all the same struggles as above and have the added fear and anxiety for the addict in your life.
Learning healthy ways to cope as a family during this season is an excellent strategy to keep everyone healthy and on the clean path.
Read our related post on actionable coping mechanisms you can use for holiday stress and addiction recovery:
Holiday Addiction Triggers
Holiday addiction triggers are not just about the addict!
Of course, there can be triggers during the holidays that can make the addict want to use a substance to escape and those triggers should be watched for and addressed as they come up.
Identifying triggers and sharing them with supportive people as they pop up can be the addict’s best weapon to overcome them. When the addict shares their fears and struggles it takes the power out of it. The burden they once carried alone is now shared by two and doesn’t feel as heavy or unmanageable.
Have you ever heard of holiday addiction triggers for family members supporting the addict? There are emotional and behavioral triggers for family members too.
Family Roles in Addiction
When addiction is present in a family, it doesn’t just affect the addict themselves it affects everyone. The patterns of behavior each member has become accustomed to in order to survive are usually unhealthy, and boundaries have gone out the window.
Issues with codependency are a common denominator for families who have been damaged by addiction. To cope with the unpredictable behavior of their loved one, family members will adopt certain maladaptive patterns and may feel that their intentions were only to help the person they love, but in reality, their actions are enabling the addict and continuing to allow the presence of destructive behaviors in all their lives.
If you are supporting an addict that is in recovery, getting together as a family during the holidays can trigger feelings of fear and anxiety based on past experiences and can cause you to enter into old unhealthy family roles from the past.
Codependency Roles in Addictive Families
Below is a list of common codependency roles in addictive family systems. Picture your family sitting down to have a holiday dinner and see if you can identify which roles each member of your family has taken on.
They are the center of the codependent family, and their needs, wants, and desires become the center of the family’s world. As the addict continues their behavior and takes over the family landscape, the rest of the family will unconsciously take on roles such as those listed below, in an attempt to restore balance from the problems the addict has been creating.
This is the person that has taken on the addict’s responsibilities and problems and tries to keep the family happy and in balance. They shield the addict from consequences and hide the addict’s problems from the other members of the family, friends, and society. They will always pick the addict up when they fall, never allowing them to face the consequences of their addiction.
This role feels the need to make the family look good. They are high achievers. They ignore the addiction problem and the roles family members play, trying to spin things in a positive manner. The hero is commonly assumed by the oldest child, and they tend to take on adult roles. The hero will seem like they have their act together but will feel a tremendous amount of guilt and may develop workaholic tendencies.
In opposition to the hero, the person who assumes this role is defiant and attempts to divert attention away from the family member by acting out. They tend to be angry, hostile and are constantly in trouble at work, school, or with the law. The scapegoat harbors feelings of loneliness, anger, and emptiness and can often turn to drugs or alcohol themselves in order to dull the pain they feel, even though they put on a confrontational façade.
They are the family clown. They try to lighten the situation, draw attention away from the hard struggles, and distract from family troubles with humor. The humor they use can be immature and harmful but is a direct reflection of the anger and sadness they feel on the inside.
The Lost Child
This role is the quiet and reserved family member who will never mention their feelings or voice their opinion about their loved one’s addiction. They tend to withdraw from the family unit when trying to deal with the presence of addiction in the family and will give up their own needs. As a result of this, they are sometimes forgotten and feel tremendous feelings of neglect, loneliness, and eventually anger.
Unfortunately, these behaviors will also interfere with each family member’s ability to have a healthy life and it is important to not revert back to these unhealthy family roles. The long-term effects of playing these roles on family members are quite devastating and can include: family members lacking healthy social skills and experiencing difficulty making and keeping healthy relationships, family members developing significant issues in dealing with problems as they mature, and family members becoming addict’s themselves.
Addiction Recovery as a Whole Family
Could you identify with these different roles? Addiction is a family issue, and in order for an addict to recover from substance abuse, the family must also undergo treatment in order to address the unhealthy behaviors that allowed a loved one’s addiction to grow and flourish.
If you are reading this, you have taken the first step in the recovery process for the entire family. By understanding why and how these roles contribute to an addict’s abuse issues, you can now move on to the next step of healing and breaking the cycle of addiction through family therapy.
Staying Sober During Family Meals
Spending time with family members who the addict used to use with or who are still active in their addiction can be a challenge for them. They may need to set a healthy boundary here and protect themselves by opting out of gatherings where they cannot be supported during their recovery.
An important thing for the entire family to remember when an addict makes this choice is that they are not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings or offend anyone, they are just trying to stay alive.
Maybe a couple of smaller holiday family gatherings could be planned instead of one large gathering. One event for sober people and one event for those who are not, that way everyone can feel wanted, loved, and safe during the holidays.
An easier way to provide a safe place for everyone is to tackle the topic head-on and preplan. Send out invitations saying something fun like “This holiday we are going clean! We are keeping this year friendly for the WHOLE family so in order to be there, you’ve got to be square!” If anyone has a negative response, just remember that you can’t make everyone happy all the time and you are not responsible for their feelings.
Staying Sober at a Holiday party
Whether it’s a work holiday party or a get-together with family or friends, a holiday party situation can be a challenge indeed. There can be social pressure and other triggers to keep an eye out for, whether you’re new to recovery or practiced.
Here are a few tips and tricks to staying sober at holiday parties…
- Bring a sober friend and accountability partner with you
- Arrive just on time, not early
- Get yourself something to drink right away, or have your friend get it for you and hold onto it the entire time
- Plan something for after the party too, maybe a 12-step meeting
- Leave on time, don’t linger
- Don’t deviate from your original plan, impulsive decisions may get you into trouble
Holidays During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Finally, remember this… This holiday season is like no other we have experienced before on this planet. The world is dealing with many issues and all its people, whether it be the addict or supporting family members, need abundant grace, compassion, and unity.
Just being kind to people and spreading a little joy to the stranger in our path or to our loved one who is struggling has the power to change lives.