As you think about how to support loved ones this holiday season, make sure to give extra consideration to those in recovery from substance or alcohol challenges. This festive period can be especially stressful for those committed to maintaining their recovery from alcohol use. In a recent survey, 94% of respondents in recovery reported feeling overwhelmingly or moderately stressed during the holidays. As people gather with family and friends, the combination of emotions, stress, and the presence of substances like alcohol can put a person at risk of relapse, which runs higher during this time of year.
One of the most valuable resources a person can have for their recovery journey is a trusted support network. According to Mental Health First Aid, research has shown that people are more likely to recover if they have:
Your role as a peer or loved one is crucial. Offering support and fostering hope may be the most valuable contribution you can make in supporting someone recovering from a mental health or substance use challenge. If you have someone in your life that is recovering from a substance use challenge, use these tips to help keep them on the path to recovery and mental wellbeing – thriving regardless of a mental health or substance use challenge – this holiday season:
Communicate. According to Mental Health First Aid, people are more likely experience a recurrence of symptoms if there is an emotional upset in their life, but family and friends can try to reduce this possibility. Becoming aware of potentially triggering situations and knowing how to prepare for them can help minimize your loved one’s risk of recurrence. For example, if you are spending the holidays with someone in recovery, be sure to ask them whether they are comfortable being around alcohol or other stressors. They may prefer a substance-free environment, ask that people not drink in their presence, or request that you don’t invite someone who may cause them stress. It will be easier for your loved one to handle any potential stressors by giving attention to their needs.
Encourage them to celebrate with a fellow friend in recovery. Ask them to invite someone to the event who understands what recovery is like and what they are going through. Having a supportive friend by their side will make it easier for your loved one to handle any potentially stressful situations.
Reduce holiday pressures. If you notice your loved one feels overwhelmed or uneasy, reassure them that declining an invitation, skipping a particular activity, or leaving a party early is perfectly acceptable. However, if they participate in the festivities, make sure they have a backup plan. Help them mentally prepare for a situation that might put them at risk or make them feel uncomfortable. By making it clear that you will always be available to help them out of a difficult or triggering circumstance, you will help ease any pressure they may feel.
Educate others on the recovery process. Let family and friends know ahead of time that someone in recovery will be attending the holiday event. Some people may not understand how to interact with someone who is overcoming a substance use challenge. Give family and friends guidance on how to interact with someone in recovery.
Promote recovery and mental wellbeing. Find ways to support your loved one’s recovery. Motivate them to engage in consistent healthy behaviors, like eating healthy, exercising, or engaging in self-care. Offer to attend a support group meeting with them, such as a 12-step program (Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), for example) or a different mutual aid group (like SMART Recovery or Celebrate Recovery). Remind them that feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression are normal, especially during winter and the heightened atmosphere of the holidays. Let them know that you’re there for support.
The holidays are about spending time with your loved ones. If you have anyone in your life who is in recovery, let them know that you support their recovery and will do your best to accommodate them.
This time of year can be especially tough for those in recovery, so going the extra mile to support a loved one will mean a lot to them. Being a champion for your loved one’s recovery is the best gift you can give. Remember, if they are not ready to be around alcohol, do not serve any. Instead, take the focus off alcohol and let them know that they are an essential part of your celebration. By using these tips, you can #BeTheDifference for loved ones in recovery from alcohol use disorder.
For more tips on how to support those on their recovery journey, check out these blogs from Mental Health First Aid:
American Addiction Centers. (2020, November 4). Holiday highs and lows. DrugAbuse.com. https://drugabuse.com/featured/holiday-highs-and-lows/.
Mental Health First Aid USA. (2020). Mental Health First Aid USA for adults assisting adults. Washington, DC: National Council for Mental Wellbeing.
Mountainside Treatment Center. (2021, February 22). 4 ways to support your loved one’s recovery during the holidays. Mountainside. https://mountainside.com/blog/family-wellness/4-ways-to-support-your-loved-ones-recovery-during-the-holidays /.
New Directions Addiction Recovery Services. (2017, December 4). How to support loved ones in recovery during the holidays. https://www.ndars.org/support-recovery-during-holidays.
T, Buddy. (2021, March 1). Why the holidays are hard for recovery. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/recovery-during-the-holidays-67406 .
Turnbridge. (2021, January 26). How to support loved ones in recovery during the holidays. Turnbridge. https://www.turnbridge.com/news-events/latest-articles/how-to-support-loved-ones-in-recovery-holidays/# .