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Navigating the Holidays: A Guide for Families Supporting Loved Ones Struggling with Substance Use

Parallel Recovery for Families - Lisa Smith






As the winter month of December concludes with festive lights and hopeful gatherings, we collectively embrace the season of giving, gratitude, and connection. In this period of anticipated celebration, it's important to acknowledge the unique challenges faced by individuals in recovery or those grappling with substance use disorders. This month, we delve into the role of alcohol in holiday celebrations and explore ways to navigate this season with compassion and support.


Holidays and the Role of Alcohol

The holiday season often ushers in a plethora of social events where alcohol takes center stage. From festive office parties to family gatherings and New Year's Eve celebrations, the prevalence of alcohol can present challenges for individuals in early recovery or those currently struggling with substance use. The pressure to partake in these festivities can be overwhelming, underscoring the need for a mindful and supportive community - which includes YOU, the family.


Understanding the Challenge

For many families, alcohol has been a generational tradition symbolizing connection and celebration. However, for those supporting someone on their recovery journey, it's crucial to recognize the potential difficulties these traditions may bring. Feelings of isolation, temptation, and societal expectations can intensify during the holidays. As a support system, fostering open communication becomes essential to create an environment where individuals feel comfortable expressing their concerns and needs. While it's not your responsibility to keep someone sober, approaching situations with understanding and compassion can make a meaningful impact.


Natvigating "Mocktails" and Triggers

In recent years, the rise of "mocktails" has become a popular alternative to traditional alcoholic beverages. While these non-alcoholic concoctions can be a healthier option for those choosing to be sober, it's essential to be mindful of the potential triggers they might present to someone in recovery.


Many people in recovery are against anything resembling alcohol and prefer to stick to sparkling water or other sodas. This may seem like an inclusive way to engage those who choose to be sober, but for some people in recovery, this is actually disregarding of the difficult and long road that they have traveled in their recovery process. Their journey was much more difficult than simply not drinking.


For individuals in recovery, the taste, smell, or appearance of a mocktail can evoke memories associated with alcoholic beverages. It's crucial to recognize that what might be a lighthearted and enjoyable experience for one person could be a challenge for another. Open communication about preferences and comfort levels around these alcohol-free alternatives is key to ensuring a supportive and understanding environment.


Tips for Navigating the Holdays

Open Communication: Encourage open and honest conversations about expectations and boundaries during the holiday season. Understanding everyone's comfort level with certain events or environments can help in planning supportive celebrations.

Plan Alternative Activities: Suggest alternative activities that don't revolve around alcohol. This could include attending non-alcoholic events, engaging in festive outdoor activities, or enjoying a movie night in with loved ones.

Offer Supportive Spaces: Create environments that prioritize support and understanding. Whether it's a family gathering or a workplace event, knowing there's a supportive space to retreat to can make a significant difference.

Celebrate Milestones: If the individual is in recovery, take time to acknowledge and celebrate their achievements. Whether it's a day, a week, or a month of sobriety, recognizing these milestones reinforces the positive steps they're taking.

Reflect on Your Own Relationship with Alcohol: If you cannot picture a New Year being rung in without alcohol, this may be a good time to reflect on the role it plays in your life. Yep - I said it. alcohol is glorified until it is a problem and then it is vilified. If you cannot have fun or connection without alcohol, it is serving a purpose for you too.

Educate and Raise Awareness: Use this time to educate friends and family about the challenges of substance use recovery. By fostering awareness, you contribute to a more empathetic and understanding community.


Waiting until the holidays are over to get the support that you need to feel confident in helping your loved one and also creating space for you to enjoy, rather than dread the season, is not generally an effective strategy. Below are some resources to support you and your loved ones through the holiday season:

Parallel Recovery - 6 week online course: Parallel Recovery is a structured 6-week curriculum designed for all affected family members to gain awareness of self and learn new tools of engagement that will support connection and sustainability in the relationship with your loved one.

Begin Again Virtual Support Group: The Begin Again Family Support group is a monthly membership support group that meets once per week online. It is designed for affected family members and focuses on creating a community of others navigating their loved ones’ challenges with Substance Use Disorder. This is a place to find common humanity and community with other families and it follows a guided topic each week.

Private Coaching: This is a great place to receive specific individualized support.

Case Management Services: If you find yourself in a place of need for help getting your loved one into support or treatment, we are here to help. We work with vetting resources around the country.



Closing Thoughts As we experience the spirit of the season, let's do so with a deep understanding of the challenges our loved ones may face. By approaching the holidays with empathy, open communication, and a commitment to support, we can create a nurturing environment that fosters recovery and builds trust and safety in your family bonds.

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