Holiday Tips for Families

[fa icon="calendar"] Dec 15, 2023 12:39:25 PM / by Sherry Gaugler-Stewart

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December often raises many questions for family members who have a loved one active in an addiction – or a loved one early in recovery.  It can be difficult to know how to support our loved one.  Below are a few simple tips.

  1. Gain an understanding.  It’s helpful know what we were up against. Sometimes the fact that someone is struggling with addiction becomes apparent during the holidays, especially since we usually see each other more at this time than other times throughout the year. At times families fall into the trap of thinking that someone who is struggling with addiction is just behaving badly. It’s helpful to know the signs of addiction and alcoholism. Both the National Institute on Drug Abuse ( and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence ( have helpful information. Educating yourself allows you the opportunity to know what you’re dealing with, and will be helpful in understanding what to do next.  This includes having a better understanding of early recovery, as research shows that the first year of someone’s recovery is the most difficult – which makes sense when we consider that someone is learning how to navigate their world without using what they had previously used to help them navigate.
  2. Get support for yourself.  Likely the most counterintuitive piece of advice, and something that we can be resistant to when we have been focusing on our loved one having a problem.  The truth of the matter is that there is no way that you can watch someone become entangled with alcoholism and addiction without being affected. Family members often feel that if they love someone enough, and say and do the right things, they’ll be able to fix their loved one so they no longer have the struggles that they have. To be around others who have had a similar experience in their reactions, and who have found a way to cope with it, helps to break the shame and stigma we often carry where addiction is concerned. The easiest and most accessible way to find support from others who have been there, too, is through Al-Anon ( or Nar-Anon ( So many family members keep the addiction in their family a secret. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon provide safe places to talk about it.
  3. Communicate.  The holidays, although a wonderful time of year, often create pitfalls for families in general!  We need to be able to talk about what we want our holiday to look like, and be focused on what is realistic. If your loved one is actively using, what is realistic may be different than at other times. Some families decide that they need to set some clear boundaries: that their loved one is only invited if they can be clean and sober during the gathering. They also need to have a plan in place on how they’ll honor that boundary if it’s not met. Some find that they want their loved one included in everything regardless, so they know that they are in a safe place. Some families decide to change how they will celebrate so they can all meet at a place where anyone can easily leave if they feel uncomfortable. As I stated before, there is no right or wrong in deciding this. There is only what is best for you and for your family – and the only way to determine that is through communication.
  4. Temper Expectations.  Families can get wrapped up into hard-to-achieve holiday ideals. They may want everything about these celebrations to be perfect, and that added pressure sets individuals up for some incredibly stressful interactions. If you have a loved one who is struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, things likely aren’t going to be perfect.  Even for those in early recovery, things may not meet our expectations.  Instead of focusing on how expectations aren’t being met, it can be helpful to focus on the places where things are going well, and to allow for things to change.  For example, I have a loved one who, in his first year of recovery, showed up for Christmas and stayed an hour because the holidays are hard for him.  He had two of his recovery friends with him, and they left to go to a day-long holiday meeting that was being offered.  Was it the perfect family-together-all-day kind of Christmas?  No.  Was it great to have a little time with my loved one in his recovery?  Absolutely!

There’s no way to handle the holidays perfectly and stress-free – but, there is an opportunity to take some extra time to take care of you, and that makes a huge difference.

Topics: alcohol addiction, Recovery, Drug Rehab, Family Sober Support, Alcohol & Health, Support Group

Sherry Gaugler-Stewart

Written by Sherry Gaugler-Stewart

Director of Family and Spiritual Recovery

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