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A Recovery Coach’s Guide To Navigating Substance Abuse During The Holidays

The holiday season is a special time. However you celebrate, it’s a time of year synonymous with joy and memories with family and friends. And it can also be a difficult time for some people: particularly those who are in recovery.

Gatherings and events with alcohol can be a new experience for people who are newly sober and can offer social pressures that can be challenging. Luckily, our society is becoming more sober-conscious. There is a lot of useful information available for those in recovery about how to navigate the holidays and stay safe this time of year. This is a popular topic for obvious reasons, and there is no shortage of tips and helpful strategies available. 

But what about the family and friends of those who are currently struggling with a drinking or drug-use problem? How can they manage the stress and support the people in their lives that they care about during this special and vulnerable time?

Part of what makes the holidays so special is that it is a time to not only see familiar faces but also get reacquainted with those we do not see regularly. Whether it is getting together with a group of old friends or going to a family holiday dinner, you may come face to face with a loved one who is struggling with alcohol or drug issues. This can cause stress, tension, fear, and take away from what is supposed to be a special time.

So what can you do? How can you help?

Recovery Facts

First, be objective.

It’s normal to minimize, justify or rationalize behaviors of the people we care about. We do not want to believe that someone we care about is struggling. Try to remain objective and look at the facts. If doing this confirms your suspicions, trust yourself and your concern. It’s more than likely valid.

Speak up about addiction

Second, speak up.

Enabling often comes in the form of silence. That’s why the first step in providing support is often airing your concerns. It’s not necessary to address the person of concern directly at first. Start by sharing your concerns with your family or friends. Chances are if one person is concerned, so are others. Confirming your suspicions will allow you and your family/friends to see the situation more objectively.

Support those in recovery

Third, be prepared to offer help.

If a pattern is emerging and it appears that outside or professional help is needed, research resources to have at your disposal. Remember, you’re not just doing this for the person of concern. It’s also important to seek guidance on how your family/friends can navigate the challenging and emotionally charged situations to come such as an intervention or treatment-center placement. Taking a family-centric approach in recovery is a critical factor in creating long-term success.

Be patient with addicts

Fourth, wait until the person of concern is sober or less impaired (if possible).

If you feel a conversation is needed to address concerning behaviors, try to wait until the person of concern is sober or at least not impaired. Trying to communicate with someone who has an alcohol or drug problem while under the influence can sometimes do more harm than good. And they may not even remember the conversation fully.

Sober decisions

Fifth, keep them safe.

At the end of the day, this is the No. 1 goal in any recovery plan. While we can’t control a person’s behavior — particularly when they’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol — there are measures we can take to protect against them doing further harm to themselves or others. Try not to assume “they’ll be alright.” Erroring on the side of caution may save their life. You’ll never regret that time you took away your loved one’s car keys. You will regret not doing it.

Taking an active, supportive role in caring for a loved one in a time of need may not seem like the ideal way to spend the holidays. But if done with care, concern, and love, it can be the greatest gift you’ll ever give. And giving is what this special time of year is all about.

Thatcher Shivley

Director of Community Relations | Recovery Coach

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