Picture this: Its Christmas time, decorations are up, the fire in on and Christmas songs are playing in the back ground. Sounds of laughter and children playing echo through the house. This scene or something like it is the dreamy scene we conjure up when we think of a happy Christmas. For many, Christmas is a time for the family to get together, Santa Clause, children, gift giving and receiving, movies and relaxation.

However, for families of substance abusers, Christmas and the lead up to it, it’s a different story. The reality can be a time of great stress, worry and anguish. The thoughts of managing someone’s substance abuse issues during the Christmas period can be overwhelming. How can families better cope with this over the Christmas period?


Within these families the need for open honest communication is really important so everyone knows where they stand. Having expectations of our family member whether actively using or in recovery can often end in disaster. It’s important to explore and verbalise these expectations but also realise that our expectations may not be aligned with those of our loved ones. Someone in recovery may struggle at Christmas while someone actively using may promise to cut down at Christmas. Family members may then expect things to go more smoothly over the holiday period and feel let down if this doesn’t happen.

Coping with Active Addiction.

Many families feel the need to ban the active user from the home at Christmas due to past experiences. This decision is not a black and white one and shouldn’t be treated as so. On one hand it may drive the user further into addiction adding to the feelings of isolation, guilt, shame and anger. On the other hand, families have to look after their own well-being, safety and the safety of children. If the family decide to have their loved one present then clear ground rules need to be put in place ensuring everyone is aware of them and the consequences if they are not met.

Supporting Recovery in the Home

Christmas can be a time of excess and also a difficult time for someone in recovery, particularly early recovery. It is also a time where family members fear relapse. Therefore it is important the whole family discuss relapse prevention together. The recovering person must voice their needs in relation to attending parties and family occasions. At Christmas many families have alcohol in the home, this isn’t necessarily bad, but they should discuss how comfortable the recovering person is with it. While you shouldn’t walk around on egg shell, other family members need to be aware of their own drinking habits also.

Past Hurts and Letting Go

For some people Christmas is a very emotional period. Feelings of grief and loss can be heightened at this time. Feelings of hurt and anger can also surface. While some family members may be fine with the presence of the addict others may air grievances that have built up over time. On the other hand members may be opposed to the recovering person’s presence as it might highlight their own substance abuse issues. Family members need to focus on the now without bring up past grievances.

It’s important that family members look after their own self-care, realise they can only do so much to support someone and also realise that sobriety and recovery is in the hands of their loved one. This may be hard to accept, especially if there has been repeated relapses. Sometimes a loved ones needs to reach their rock bottom before they find recovery and family members may need to accept this, difficult as it may be. We are all responsible for our own behaviours and focusing on ourselves and our own well-being can bring about considerable changes in the home.

So I hope these few tips help you over the Christmas period and wish you a very peaceful holiday time.

Warmest Wishes

Eileen Foley


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