The holiday season is upon us, along with all the joys and stresses it may bring.
End-of-year festivities and gatherings often mean increased stress for families touched by addiction. That’s why it’s especially important to remain aware and proactive if addiction has impacted your family.
While good communication before family gatherings can help prevent relapse or conflict, the holidays are also a good time to seek support to make your new year healthier and stronger than ever before.
Redefining Holiday Expectations Reduces Stress and Supports Healing
Our culture puts incredible emphasis on achieving a “perfect” holiday — one where everyone’s happy at all times, everything runs smoothly and gifts and perfect meals abound. These unrealistic expectations only increase stress and leave little room for authentic feelings and experiences.1
“The holiday season can be especially difficult for families touched by addiction because it highlights the stark contrast between the celebration of ‘happiness and family union’ and the ‘chaos and family discord’ found in addicted families,” therapist Ana Judkins, MS, LASAC, explains. “The pressures to have a perfect holiday create anxiety and are likely to increase feelings that lead to relapse.”
Therapist Christina Paschall, LAC, has witnessed the pattern of holiday stress in her clinical practice too. She says past experiences — such as childhood memories of parents who drank too much or became violent during family gatherings — and old coping skills often resurface during times of stress. “If I used substances as a maladaptive coping skill for anxiety, depression or fear of social intimacy, I would likely return to what I know will help me feel safe (or numb) to the experience,” Paschall notes.
Because of this, Paschall understands that each person (and family) has a unique recovery process. While one person may benefit from extended family visits during the holidays, others may feel very uncomfortable or anxious. It’s important to begin a healing process, but that process begins with acceptance of where everyone is in their own wellness. The good news is, you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. Don’t be afraid to reach out for the help of an experienced treatment team, counselor or support group along the way.
Tips for Handling the Holidays
The holidays can often bring reality crashing back and trigger stressors you typically avoid. We’ve provided tips to help you better handle them.
Should We Plan a Family Intervention During the Holidays?
Addiction takes a toll on both individuals and families, and it can be downright distressing when someone you love is in a painful cycle of self-destruction.
You may have been considering an intervention for a long time but, like many people, feel unsure about how to begin the process and even fearful about possible negative outcomes. If so, you’re not alone. Many families struggle with knowing how to help a loved one.
In all reality, the holidays may be stressful enough without the added tension and planning that surround an intervention. But if extended family members are in town for holiday gatherings, these moments can provide an opportune moment to intervene.
Just be aware that interventions should involve some planning and discussion beforehand. The decision to hold a family intervention during the holidays is best made with the help of a trusted counselor or an experienced interventionist. Professionals who have experience in the intervention process can help ease worries and make the intervention as stress-free as possible.
If you simply aren’t ready to discuss this problem directly with the entire family in the near future, know that the holidays may provide a good opportunity for extended family members to plan an effective intervention for the new year. Working together to make an action plan is still part of the process, and that process can save lives.
Don’t forget to take a moment for self-care as well. It’s easy to get caught in a cycle of worry, anger and anxiety when someone you care about isn’t well. But you can’t help another person unless you feel safe, reasonably healthy and clear-headed. Self-care will also help you see your loved one with clarity. As you become more in tune with your own body and needs, you’ll become better able to make a clear plan.
When a Loved One Is in Crisis
Sometimes, the health of a loved one doesn’t allow you to wait for treatment. Addicted people often feel stress at an amplified level, and holiday stressors of money, family or work may lead to a medical or psychological crisis. Even people who have been in recovery for a long period of time risk relapse when they become highly stressed.2
Another cause for immediate action is when a loved one’s addiction involves life-threatening amounts of drugs or alcohol. For instance, opioid use or mixing drugs with alcohol may result in an overdose. Because most addicted people become experts at hiding the severity of their problem, it’s best to seek treatment as soon as possible.
Recovery Starts Here
No matter where you choose treatment, we are here for you. Call our dedicated helpline at 855-808-6212 and speak to an admissions counselor who can help you assess your family situation and decide what to do next. We can put you in touch with intervention resources and help you develop a treatment plan to make a differences in the lives of your entire family. Call us today to learn more.
1. Reardon, Christina, MSW, LSW. “Families and Addiction — Surviving the Season of Stress.” Social Work Today, November/December 2011.
2. Jaffe, Adi, PhD. “Addiction during the holidays: Recovered or not, it’s important to be prepared.” Psychology Today. December 23, 2010.
Written by Kathryn Millán, LPC/MHSP