Support Is Crucial Over The Holidays

Holidays can be a stressful time of year for individuals in recovery. Having worked in substance abuse rehabilitation for over a decade, I have seen firsthand how the holidays bring about uncomfortable feelings and reminders for people in early and even long-term sobriety.

Holidays often bring about triggers and temptations for individuals in recovery. Some may have isolated themselves around the holidays in the past, so their first instinct is to disconnect. If it is a holiday where they would usually drink alcohol, their first thought might be to pick up a drink.

Supporting someone you love in their sobriety around the holidays may present some challenges, but it can also be a meaningful and rewarding experience. Below are eight ways to support your loved one in their recovery around the holidays.

1. Educate And Learn

First and foremost, it is always beneficial to educate yourself. Try to learn about addiction and recovery and what challenges come with each. Understanding this journey can help you empathize with your loved one, which can also help you communicate better. You can also teach other friends or family members how they can help support their loved ones.

2. Communicate And Offer Support

Keep an open line of communication and let your loved one know you are there to support them without judgment. Asking simple questions such as, “How are you feeling?” or “What do you need?” can go a long way for someone who is struggling with triggers or cravings around the holidays. A large part of support is practicing patience with your loved one, as patience throughout recovery is crucial.

3. Encourage Sober Entertainment

Planning activities that do not involve alcohol can show your loved one that they can enjoy the holidays without it. Below is a list of activities that require focus to keep their mind off of drinking during the holidays:

  • Puzzles
  • Building gingerbread houses
  • Decorating for the holidays
  • Reading
  • Watching fireworks
  • Exploring new places (museums, parks, etc.) in your town
  • Board Games
  • Charades

4. Avoid Potential Triggers

Be mindful of where you celebrate or spend the holidays. If your loved one associates a specific place or situation with substance use, look for alternatives. Remember, these places or situations may not always be a trigger, but early on in recovery, it is better to be cautious.

5. Encourage Connection

Frequently, the build-up to the holidays can be stressful. Attending a support group with your loved one or encouraging them to go before or after a holiday event can be beneficial. Attending a meeting can help them process their emotions and calm down before the event or help them wind down afterward.

6. Respect Their Boundaries

If your loved one has set boundaries, respect their decision and help to accommodate such limits. For example, if the individual in sobriety says that they do not want to go to a particular family member’s house because they find it to be a trigger, then support them in that decision.

7. Encourage Self-Care

Since lack of sleep, hunger, or stress can make people more irritable, it is best to encourage your loved one to get the proper amount of sleep and eat well. I always teach my clients the acronym HALT: never get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Paying particular attention to these feelings around the holidays can be pivotal.

8. Offer Distractions

Sometimes, your loved one might benefit from distractions when feeling down, tempted, or anxious. Engage in activities they might enjoy or talk about topics that interest them. If you notice your loved one struggling, you can ask them to take a walk and talk to them.

Recovery Is A Journey

Acknowledging and celebrating their milestones in recovery, such as making it through the holidays, can let them know how proud you are of their accomplishments. It’s important to remember that how an individual in recovery feels about the holidays can change. Next year, your loved one may feel stronger and want to do things that were triggers to them the year prior.

Supporting a loved one in sobriety can require a lot of mental and emotional effort, so remember your own needs in the process. Ultimately, your love, support, and understanding can make a monumental impact on their recovery journey around the holidays and every day.

Don’t Suffer Through Another Holiday Season

You do not have to struggle through another holiday season. Relapsing around the holidays is avoidable, and help is available.

Contact a treatment provider today to explore your rehab options and enter the new year on the road to recovery.

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Travis Pantiel, LMHC, MCAP

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  • Travis Pantiel is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a National Board-Certified Counselor with specialized expertise in the co-occurring disorder treatment field.

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