Why Are the Holidays Difficult For Those in Recovery?

For many people, the holidays are a time of the year that are filled with joy, smiles, and family bonding. For others—including those in recovery from substance abuse and addiction— the experience can be quite difficult. A season filled with parties and gatherings where alcohol and substance use are common can be triggering. Such events can instigate an array of responses such as:

  • Anxiety-attacks
  • Depression
  • Boredom and idleness
  • Isolation and loneliness
  • High levels of stress

All in all, each of these responses or a combination of them can put your loved one at risk of relapse. And although each person is responsible for their own actions, family members and friends of those in recovery can be an important support line for their loved one during this time.

What Impact Can You Have on Your Loved One in Recovery?

Before heading into what can be a tumultuous time during the holidays, each person must make their plans for themselves and strategize on how to manage their stress. And since you’re a loved one of someone in recovery, it’s equally important for you to map out your game plan.

But what does the research say about the impact you have on your loved one’s recovery? According to a study in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, the researchers propose that recovery is “relational in principle.” That is, the relational network of someone in recovery isn’t just peripheral support but actually central to the recovery process.

In addition to the tools and supports available to the individual, such as group meetings and sponsors, the people who surround the recovering addict are just as important.

3 Holiday Tips for Supporting Your Loved One  

#1: Expectations and the Growing Process:

  • The holidays can often be burdened with unrealistic expectations. Feelings of closeness, relaxation, and joy with family don’t always pan out. By identifying and evaluating expectations, you can support your loved one by talking through your own expectations as well as theirs. This may look like simply acknowledging that this holiday is going to be a little different and that it does not make anyone a failure.
  • Your loved one may not be ready to face their first sober holiday at the big family gathering. And although other family members may not mean any harm in their questions, your loved one may need extra time to build up the strength for those conversations. Try to stay sensitive and aware in situations where holiday traditions include alcohol or other substances. A person in recovery—despite being on the path to healing—may still face a temptation they are not necessarily ready to handle. Support them wholeheartedly if they decline an invitation this year and let other family know where you stand.

#2: Have a Plan and Avoid Idle Time

  • For those in recovery, plans help them stay firm in their values and boundaries even when it’s hard. One of the ways you can support them in this is by asking what their plan is! Allow them to verbalize their strategy and give supportive feedback if necessary. They may need to spend time with family who are visiting out of town on another day, rather than the actual holiday. This way, the focus will be on the visit and not on the “party.” It may also help them to arrive early to a dinner and leave early before things become too raucous. If they need an accountability buddy and you volunteer, make sure to stick to it.
  • In the early stages of recovery, unstructured time can be potentially dangerous. Be mindful of the gaps in your loved one’s schedule and don’t be afraid to gently ask them about it. Idle time can lead to increased relapse triggers such as boredom, decrease in utilizing recovery supports, and coping strategies. Free time can be even more dangerous if paired with increases in anxiety, racing thoughts, and stress.

#3: Communication, Support, and Self-Care:

  • One of the most important things for your loved one is taking responsibility and being honest about their recovery process. It is one of the healthiest habits they can build. With this responsibility comes the need to have honest and straightforward communication. You can support your loved one by being an open line of honest conversation for them. Moreover, know that trust between you two may take time to rebuild. Don’t be too hard on yourself or them. Remember that your relationship with them is in recovery, too.
  • Besides your personal support, encourage your loved one to reach out to other avenues in their network. Attending more meetings, volunteering to help at meetings, getting involved with speaking engagements, increasing phone contacts, attending outpatient treatments, and working with their counselor may be helpful during the holidays. You can set an example for them by modeling a practice of meditation, deep breathing, journaling, and mindfulness as a way stay present and connected. You having a self-care practice includes care for your emotional, physical, financial, and relational well-being. Don’t forget about taking care of yourself.

What’s the Most Important Tip of All?

If you want to support your loved one in recovery but don’t know how, simply ask them! They might not know right away the best way to remain sober and minimize stress during the holidays. But with the right tools, planning, and support system, you and your loved one can make it through a potentially stressful time with a sense of contentment and peace. Recovery means taking things one step at a time.

The month of December can be difficult for those in recovery from alcohol and substance abuse. With the season full of holiday festivities and parties, it can be difficult to remain stress-free and sober. But with the help of friends and family, your loved one can begin to envision a new type of holiday season with less stress and deeper connection.

If you are interested in the services offered by Pinnacle Recovery, please click here.