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When Friends and Family Are In Recovery During the Holidays

12/12/2012 8:00:00 AM
Written By:
Janis Omide, MS, CSAC

The holidays (the time between Thanksgiving and New Year's) are upon us. For many, this is "traditionally" a time of family gatherings, sharing and self-reflection; however, for people who are in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, the holidays can be a trigger for relapse.

"For so many, the holidays are not a joyous time of the year, but a season filled with loneliness, anxiety, self-doubt and unachievable expectations that can result in serious consequences if not managed early," says Joseph Lee, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist and addiction specialist with Hazelden. "The holidays can stir up old issues and emotions when spending time with family and friends."

Hazelden, a national nonprofit organization founded in 1949 devoted to helping people reclaim their lives from the disease of addiction, advises that the holiday season is "an opportune time to support those in recovery and loved ones struggling with addiction issues".


  • Have a Heart-to-Heart. To avoid any awkwardness, have a direct conversation with the person in recovery before the holiday celebration. Tell them you are proud of them and ask if there is anything you can do to make them feel more comfortable at the party.
  • Prepare as a Family. Understand that families cannot cure addiction and they cannot control it. Nor can families cause a relapse during the holidays - it's up to the recovering person to be responsible for their own recovery. However, families can be supportive of loved ones in recovery - especially during the holidays.
  • Show your Support. Say to the person, "We're really glad you're here and that you're sober." It is okay to talk about the change in family dynamics. Acknowledge his or her recovery in a low-key way.
  • Offer Alternatives. There should be holiday activities that aren't completely focused on alcohol. Provide alternative drinks and watch out for certain foods. Even though dishes made with wine, beer or hard liquor have no traceable alcohol content, just the flavor of the alcohol could trigger a relapse for someone in recovery.

To download a copy of these and other holiday-coping-tips visit www.fourgenerations.org (click on the left Enjoying the Holidays under CONVERSATION GUIDES).

A relapse is a process and easily masked. It is easy to confuse a person's relapse as engaging in holiday cheer; therefore, loved-ones must be careful to not feel responsible should a relapse happen during the holidays. As a loved-one it is important to understand the disease, learn to not enable and have one's own support.

Another resource is the blog intervene.drugfree.org. It consists of a community of experts, parents and caring adults concerned about teens' alcohol and drug use who collectively share inspiration, guidance and helpful articles such as 5 Tips for Keeping Your Teen Safe This Holiday Season and into the New Year.

Janis Omide is a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor with a MS Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling for Addictions from the Medical College of Virginia/VCU. Currently, Janis is a Therapist for CBH assigned to provide SA counseling to VPRJ's Therapeutic Community. She has over fifteen years of experience in the profession of providing treatment to people with addictions of varied ages, genders & cultures: Substance Abuse (SA) Counselor in out-patient and residential; Vocational Rehabilitation SA Counselor; SA Specialist for ex-offenders/probationers & DUIs; SA Therapist for Impaired Healthcare Professionals; and Director of SA Services for people with co-existing psychiatric and addictive disorders.

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