December 2022 - Hader Clinic Queensland

How to Support an Addict at Christmas

The festive season is hectic and stressful at the best of times, but when you have a loved one struggling with addiction Christmas time has the potential to be an absolute nightmare. Family get-togethers can seem incredibly daunting when you throw an addict into the mix, especially since parties are a natural trigger for destructive drinking behaviours.

If you are dreading this year’s family functions, take a deep breath, and read through our list of coping strategies for friends and families of addicts during the holidays. It won’t solve all your problems, but it may ease your anxieties.

Give yourself permission to feel

Having a loved one struggling with addiction is a minefield of emotions – guilt, anger, fear, shame, anxiety, you name it – and the best thing you can do for yourself is to acknowledge these feelings. Trying to stay strong or ignoring your emotions is not going to get you anywhere; especially if you are trying to protect your loved one by bottling everything up.

Talk to someone you trust

Sharing your feelings with a trusted friend or relative can be a huge relief. Venting your emotions will make you calmer when faced with the fall-out of your loved one’s addiction and it will make you feel less alone. Having a person who simply listens to your side of the situation can be imperative to maintain your mental health.

Be open with your loved one

Having a conversation about how your loved one’s addiction is affecting you is incredibly hard. However, it can also be very powerful – even if it doesn’t impact your loved one’s behaviours immediately. If you simply tell your loved one that you would love to see them during the Christmas period but absolutely don’t want to deal with them in a situation where they might potentially be intoxicated, you have taken the first step to protecting yourself.

Make a Plan B (or C or D)

By now you probably know your loved one’s patterns of alcohol use quite well; and there is nothing wrong with using this to your advantage. Schedule a Christmas breakfast with them rather than a lunch if it means they won’t already be intoxicated or make plans to meet them for a Christmas walk away from any drinking opportunities. Remember, you are allowed to withdraw if your loved one’s behaviour causes you pain, you have no obligation to put up with this.

Set clear boundaries

This is especially important if you have children to protect from your loved one’s destructive drinking. Making sure your children don’t have a traumatic Christmas experience is much more important than sparing your loved one’s feelings. Yes, this is a rough call to make; but this is not the time to be vague about your needs and the needs of your children.

Do not drink with them

It may not change your loved one’s drinking behaviour, but it will take away the illusion of a shared, social drinking experience. Politely but firmly refusing to join your loved one when they start drinking can be a powerful way of making a stand, regardless of the immediate reaction.

How to Stay on the Sleigh this Christmas

The silly season, glorious though it might be, can feel like an absolute minefield to the recovering addict. Parties, family get-togethers, loss of routine…Christmas in recovery is hard. Thankfully, as we all know, hard doesn’t equal impossible.

To make sure you get through the holidays without relapsing or tearing your hair out, we’ve compiled twelve strategies you might find helpful:

#1 – Yes, please, I would love a drink…of water!

There’s no getting around well-meaning friends and family offering you beverages, especially if they don’t understand your recovery journey. If you don’t feel like saying ‘no’, say ‘yes’ and specify the non-alcoholic beverage of your choice. 9 times out of 10, the person offering won’t push for alcohol, but if they do:

#2 – Be clear

Repeat after us: “No, thank you. I’ve got to get up early/I have the kids tomorrow/I’m meeting a friend for a dawn run.” You can be polite but still stand firm and it is very unlikely that anyone will insist you have alcohol, but if they do:

#3 – Use Humour

“I’ll have a drink if you eat one of these Christmas ornaments – you first.” Or maybe: “I’ve only just gotten off the naughty list!” Anything you can think of, really. Pre-rehearse lines if you think it might be helpful. It’s almost certain that this will end the discussion, but if it doesn’t:

#4 – Be open

If you’re comfortable doing so, sharing your recovery journey can be a powerful tool. When your friends and family know what you’re going through and how hard you are working to maintain recovery, they can fight in your corner and support you. But if they don’t:

#5 – Have an Exit Strategy

If you think a Christmas get-together has the potential to go south pole rather than the north pole, plan your escape in advance. Get a friend to phone you an hour into the party and pretend there’s an emergency…or, if you like, just do the rounds, say hi-and-bye and go when you’ve had enough.

#6 – Choose an Ally

Having one person in the room, who knows what you are going through and is standing by to support you can make all the difference. Whether it’s a favourite relative or your bestie, confidants can be invaluable in challenging Christmas situations.

#7 – Take time for you

There is no harm in sitting out a Christmas party if you don’t feel up to it. If you would rather go for a walk with a friend or on your own, spend the day at the beach with a good book or go to a meeting – you are allowed.

#8 – Keep up the good work

You are in the middle of recovery, so acknowledge how well you’ve been managing and keep going. Whether you are a regular at AA, go to individual therapy or do recovery work at home, this is not the time to take a break.

#9 – Deep Breaths

No matter how stressed out Christmas gets you, remember to keep breathing and stay in the moment. Try to keep grounded as much as you can and reach out to your support network when you need them.

#10 – Remember Self-Care

Whatever your self-care routine might be, ramp it up a notch this holiday season. Go for an extra swim, eat some amazing food, and hang out with your favourite people.

#11 – Stay Connected

The idea of isolating yourself until Christmas is over can be tempting, but you must be careful to stay connected with the people who support you. If you don’t feel up to any big Christmas dos, no problem; so long as you stay in touch with those who are essential to your recovery.

#12 – Be Kind to Yourself

The holiday season is hard enough as it is, there’s no need to beat yourself up for not coping as well as you hoped. Every recovering addict struggles during festivities and everyone has a bad day or week; give yourself some love this Christmas. You deserve it.

Maintaining Your Recovery During the Holiday Season

Christmas is supposed to be a joyous time. A time to get together with friends and family, let bygones be bygones, share the love…all the good stuff.

Unfortunately, when you are recovering from alcohol and/or drug addiction the holiday season can be trying to say the least. In fact, the whitest thing about Christmas may well be your knuckles as you are desperately trying to maintain your recovery.

First and foremost: Don’t panic! Struggling during the silly season is a standard experience for recovering addicts and you are not alone.

Secondly, let’s take a look at what makes the holidays so hard; knowledge is power after all and the better we understand holiday triggers, the better we can work around them.

Trigger #1 – Christmas Parties

As soon as December rolls around, it is open party season. Work functions, family get-togethers, backyard barbeques…the list is endless. It’s important to remember that any invitation to a Christmas shindig comes from a good place, but it’s equally important to maintain healthy boundaries to keep your recovery going.

The best way to deal with this overload of opportunities to relapse is to give yourself permission to decline. You are allowed to be selective and you are allowed to put yourself first. If you decide to skip Christmas drinks with co-workers you can choose to be open about your recovery, but you can also make an elegant excuse (i.e. conflicting family event, a date, a sick child…anything goes).

Trigger #2 – Broken Routine

During the Christmas period, routine is usually the first thing to go. Whether you are working extra hours to cope with the holiday rush or have a couple of weeks without work due to holiday closures, things will not run as normal and that is always a challenge for a recovering addict; especially if it means you will be alone for long stretches of the holidays.

It might be helpful to make plans to replace some of the lost structure. Whether you schedule some form of daily exercise, make some extra coffee dates or just stock up on good books or binge-worthy series to keep you occupied, the most important thing is to provide yourself with anchors to avoid reverting to unhealthy coping strategies.

Trigger #3 – Family Get-Togethers

Families are great, but they are also a massive source of stress and anxiety – especially during the holiday season. You may be faced with meeting relatives for the first time since you started your recovery, you may be dreading explaining your journey and dealing with any judgement that might come your way…and on top of that, these people expect presents!

If the thought of the family festivities is sending you into a spiral, confide in your most trusted family member and make them your Christmas buddy. Having one person in the room who knows what you’re going through and has your back can make all the difference.


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