Navigating the Holidays with an Addicted Loved One


Decide in advance what boundaries are important to you, and that the alcoholic/addict must follow to participate in family festivities

While the winter holidays can be a time of festive celebration and connecting with loved ones, these gatherings can also be charged with stress and anxiety. Anticipation levels may be high for good things to happen, and any event can yield painful reminders of ongoing challenges, such as having a family member with a substance use disorder. These problems can be too much to handle lovingly, so it is a wise parent, spouse, sibling or friend who presents a clear head about how she will see face the festivities with concern for an alcoholic or drug addict. In other words, to enjoy the holiday season the best, seek professional help to prepare for the holidays and how to discourage any drug abuse.

First and foremost, you will be more comfortable and confident if you keep in mind that you are in control, not the alcoholic nor addict. This active role on your part will set forth fair, yet concrete boundaries that bring your sky-high expectations back down to earth where they belong. If you know how you can promote sobriety while also enjoying your holiday season, then you might have the best holiday so far. As you prepare yourself mentally and logistically for the upcoming holidays, keep in mind the following framework to make the difference between a positive holiday experience and an utter disaster:

  • Decide in advance what boundaries are important to you and that the alcoholic/addict must follow to participate in family festivities. Such boundaries include arriving at a designated time, being well-groomed and dressed appropriately, and maintaining a cheerful and kind demeanor. This last point is vital, as anger or pity are unwelcome. Finally, the user must be sober—if you smell alcohol on his breath or he acts intoxicated, then refuse to let him in or ask him to stay away from the festivities. In other words, do not tolerate any amount of drug abuse, even if it is only perceived.
  • Establish boundaries that are simple and realistic
  • Present these boundaries at least a week before the holiday activity occurs
  • Stand firm on your boundaries, and do not get into a battle over realistic expectations
  • Resist the temptation of digging up the past. Bringing up old of how the addict let you down before will only make matters worse and invite a fight. Not only does this kind of behavior serve a negative purpose, but it may also destroy everyone’s holiday.
  • Have clear consequences laid out in the event your conditions are not met
  • Make sure that everyone involved understands what the consequences are for the addict defying your wishes. In that way, no one can dispute the rules or feign ignorance about your intentions regarding drug abuse.
  • If the addict dislikes your holiday rules, then be committed to a response. You could say that you feel sad that the loved one will not join you, but that it is her choice. The loved one must now shoulder all the responsibility for her decision, even though she may try to blame you. Prepare in advance to confront such disagreements.
  • Make sure your boundary walls do not tumble! Even if it has been the pattern before, do not allow the addict to bend, spin or rationalize away your “house rules.” No excuses nor exceptions allowed! If he sees a “crack in the dam,” he may likely resort to tugging at your heartstrings with yelling and screaming as he did when he wanted his way as a five-year old. Please do not fall prey to thinking that you can overlook this behavior because it is the holidays or that you do not want to be unhappy or make your loved ones unhappy. This kind of thought will turn out to be a lose/lose scenario for both you and the drug user.
  • Keep an open mind. If your loved one opts out of the family festivities for one reason or another, then respect that choice without dispensing any guilt, judgment or ridicule1.

If you follow these guidelines and prepare in advance for the holidays, then you can discourage drug abuse while you also enjoy a time of family and happiness.

Our team of dedicated professionals stands ready to serve you and your loved ones. With the documented support of 11 federally funded studies, our Dual Diagnosis treatment approach has proven to be one of the most effective programs in the world for drug addiction recovery. Furthermore, not only do our services have a solid track record of success with addiction and other mental illnesses, but also our staff members genuinely care about each and every individual who passes through their doors. Call our 24 hour, toll-free helpline now for instant, professional support. Our staff looks forward to learning how they can help you. They can help you have the merriest and most memorable holidays together, especially if you reach out for professional support right now.

1 Bennett, Carol, M.A., Substance Abuse Counselor and Author, “14 Holiday Tips for Dealing with the Family Alcoholic or Addict”, The Huffington Post, , (November 10, 2015).