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Managing the Holidays With a Loved One Who is Addicted

When Bing Crosby croons about being home for Christmas, it usually conjures up images of warm family gatherings where love and harmony abound. Yet, for many, the reality of family gatherings during the holidays is something less than a Currier & Ives idyll. The holidays can be one of the hardest times of the year and this is especially true when someone in the family has an addiction. Even if the person is in recovery, and certainly if they are not, their struggle impacts everyone around them.

It is true that addiction never touches just the person who abuses, but reaches out into the lives of everyone around him/her. Parents, siblings, spouses, children, co-workers and others are all touched by the struggles of the person in addiction or even in recovery. Unless, that person has developed strong, healthy coping mechanisms, their loved ones will be facing struggles right alongside them. Still, it isn't true that the families and loved ones of the addict are helpless victims in the situation. There are ways for them to take control of how the addiction affects them and the celebration plans for the holidays.

To begin with, recognize that you don't need to walk this journey alone. Often families of addicts adopt a cone of silence about the problem, believing that they are protecting their struggling loved one. In fact, the opposite is true. When the family keeps silent, destructive feelings of guilt and shame creep in. Soon everyone feels an overpowering sense of isolation. Pretending things are okay when they aren't actually exacerbates the problem.

In addition to finding a support group, there are other steps that you can take to manage the holidays when a loved one is living with or overcoming an addiction. Here are just a few:

1. Control expectations
Don't expect that family functions will go off without a hitch. That rarely happens in families even where no addiction is present. Set realistic goals and then work lovingly to accomplish them. Expect that the holidays will be hard for the addict and don't expect them to behave as though nothing is amiss.

2. Communicate inside the family
Setting realistic expectations is not the same thing as expecting failure and meltdown. By communicating with other family members about the situation and telling them the whys and wherefores you can diffuse many problems before they arise.

3. Create boundaries
Communicate with the loved one as well. Tell them what you expect from them. No substance use prior to or during the family time for example. Zero tolerance for rudeness or verbal abuse would be another boundary. Also explain that you want your loved one to share this precious time, but that if they cannot live inside the boundary, they will be invited to leave.

The holidays present a special time for family togetherness. When a family member is living in or overcoming addiction, their struggle is bound to impact others. Nevertheless, the most loving approach is to be very clear about how that person can be included rather than excluded from these times. In the end, you cannot control the other person, but only create the best environment for their success.

Posted on December 31st, 2012
Posted in Family Resources

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