Supporting Loved Ones in Recovery During the Holidays
As we approach the 2023 fall and winter holiday season, many of us are preparing for multiple rounds of family gatherings, feasts, and festivities. We may be compiling our shopping lists, our to-do lists, or our guest lists with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Hopefully the biggest worry confronting us during our preparations is where to get the best price on our favorite holiday specialties. However, given that 28.6 million U.S. adults ages 18 and older had alcohol use disorder (AUD) as of 2021*, it is likely that many of us have close family members or friends with AUD. If a loved one recently has taken steps to treat their disorder and is in recovery, we may feel uncertain about how we can best support them.
The following are some suggestions that may help you - and your loved one(s) - get through this holiday season more confidently and comfortably.
First, remember that your loved one is still the same person you know and love. It is unnecessary to treat him or her differently. I have heard from many clients in early recovery how frustrating it feels when a spouse, partner, or parent hovers over them in worry, responds fearfully to even their slightest mood change, or in some other way has modified how they behave around the individual in recovery. While your intention might be well-meaning, when you hold back from treating your loved ones how you used to before the alcohol use became an issue, you potentially are signaling that you see them as lesser.
Second, ask your loved ones what kind of support they would like from you. Do not assume that what one person finds supportive in recovery is universal. Respect your loved ones’ boundaries, especially as those boundaries relate to disclosure of their alcohol use disorder. It is up to our loved ones to decide who they are ready to tell about their struggles with alcohol and when they are ready to do so.
Third, understand that your loved one may not feel up to attending multiple gatherings, especially if alcohol will be served. Ask what events he or she would feel comfortable attending, and if there are events that would feel too stressful to contemplate. Reassure your loved ones that you are supportive of them prioritizing their physical and mental health over a party. Consider alternative options to celebrate in a way that will feel safer or more comfortable to your loved one, such as skipping a large get-together and instead staying home and creating your own smaller event. If your loved one does decide to attend a gathering away from home, offer to collaborate on coming up with an exit strategy in case he or she gets overwhelmed. If the thought of missing out on an event brings up feelings of sadness for your loved one and/or you, remind yourselves that there will be future gatherings and celebratory occasions; missing one (or more) this year is not the worst thing in the world to happen.
Fourth, if you are the host, ensure there are plenty of non-alcoholic beverage alternatives, such as seltzer, juice, soda, tea, etc. Be understanding if your loved one signals his or her intent to leave your event early.
Finally, if you are struggling with your own emotions in response to having seen your loved one’s struggles with AUD, consider seeking help and support for yourself as well. There are support groups for family members of individuals with AUD, and it can also be helpful to consider individual therapy of your own. When we tap into the community of supports around us, we can better support our loved ones!
*Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-topics/alcohol-facts-and-statistics/alcohol-treatment-united-states-age-groups-and-demographic-characteristics