The holidays can be a stressful time as we rush from place to place, buying gifts, attending parties and preparing food. But for families dealing with addiction, the holidays can present a unique set of challenges.
You have probably heard that addiction doesn’t discriminate. In fact, at least 25 percent of the population has a close relative who has a substance use disorder, and one in five Americans personally know someone who died from opioid addiction.
If you have an addicted family member, you are not alone and that there are things you can do to cope. Here are some considerations to help you deal with a loved one’s addiction during the holidays.
• Keep your expectations in check. If you have an addicted loved one, then you know all too well that addiction can be messy. And, unfortunately, addiction never takes a holiday. You will want to accordingly manage your expectations. Unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment and added stress among people who are addicted, people in recovery and their family members.
• Set firm boundaries. You are well within your rights to communicate to your addicted loved one that you have expectations. It is helpful to be clear about your boundaries and the consequences if they are not able to abide by them. If your loved one cannot act according to your boundaries, it is important that your family enforce those consequences in solidarity.
• Support loved ones in recovery. Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. Your recovering loved ones still have struggles, and the holidays may exacerbate them. This may be particularly true if this is their first sober holiday. Especially in early recovery, your loved one may be dealing with anxiety or depression, and they may find it difficult to relax and enjoy the holiday. Be sure to give them the space they need during holiday celebrations and do not critique their every action. Remind other relatives that this may not be the appropriate time to air past grievances as it could create or revive tension among family members.
• If a loved one relapses during the holidays, offer them support. If they participate in a 12-step fellowship, you may consider contacting their sponsor, offering to attend NA or AA meetings with them or asking them if they will consider going to treatment. Remember, you have a right to establish and enforce boundaries to protect you and your loved ones this holiday season.
Alex Elswick is the extension associate for family resource management at the Letcher County Extension office in Whitesburg.