Practical Advice for Coping with Addiction During the Holidays

For many of us, the holidays are a time for family and friends to gather. We reminisce about the good times. Catch up on the changes and life events that have unfolded over the course of the year. But beneath the nice clothes and well-wishing, we all have struggles. If your family is living with dysfunction and the long-term effects of traumatic events, know that you aren’t alone. Addiction during the holidays can be a particularly challenging issue. This article will help you both recognize the signs and cope with addiction during the holidays. Whether you have loved ones living with addiction, or you face challenges yourself, we hope you will find comfort and useful information here.

Signs of Addiction

Recognizing the signs of addiction during the holidays can be trickier than you might imagine. Addicted people conceal the signs, at least until matters really begin to spiral out of control. This does not mean they have bad intentions, however. While you should never brush off the signs of addiction, it is important to understand that addiction is a complex disease. No one sets out to become addicted. People don’t just become dependent on drugs and alcohol with the goal of hurting the people they care about. The urge to conceal the signs comes from the desire to keep using at any cost, not wanting to be dishonest. Addiction is a disease of the mind. That means it inherently affects judgement. It reorders priorities in an unhealthy way. 

Here are some outward signs of addiction you can watch for:

  • Glassy or bloodshot eyes.
  • Slurred/slow or unusually rapid speech. 
  • Unusual drowsiness and absent-minded scratching at the neck, face or body.
  • Frequently leaving the dinner table or group and disappearing for longer than a bathroom break. 

Whose Fault Is It?

It’s best not to focus on blame when it comes to addiction. Note, this does not mean an addicted person bears no responsibility for their actions. What it does mean is that blame isn’t helpful. Ultimately your goal is to help the person you love, isn’t it? The most effective way to do that is to focus on the solution. It can be very, very hard to keep emotions in check when it comes to addiction during the holidays. It can be a lot to handle whether you are just discovering the signs in someone for the first time, or a person in recovery has a relapse on Thanksgiving.

How every addiction during the holidays presents itself though, it is important to keep your focus on solving the problem. Don’t get caught up in blame or let anger or disappointment derail the situation. No one is suggesting bottling up emotions or simply not having them, you’re not a robot, after all. 

But, if you truly want to help make things right, you must keep the lines of communication open and you need to have a plan. Here are a couple of key things to keep in mind:

  1. Listen – Communication is key. Even if you’re hurt or angry, speak your mind, but listen too. Communication is a two-way street,
  2. Stay Calm – A person who’s addicted will have a harder time managing their emotions. It’s up to you to keep the peace. 
  3. Reduce Harm – Do what you can to stabilize the situation in the moment. Addiction during the holidays may require extra attention, but you also have extra people to help. 

How to Handle an Addicted Loved One

A person who caught in the cycle of addiction often feels like there is no way out. Addiction often begins because a person wants to change the way they feel for whatever reason. It may be boredom, heartbreak, depression or trauma. Identifying triggers and causes will be important later, but for now the first thing to know is that your loved one wants to be free of this trap. Despite what they may say in the heat of the moment, they want a way out of the suffering. You are their lifeline, even if they don’t seem to know it or appreciate it in the moment. Stay strong and stay focused on the outcome you want, which is for them to accept help.

Reducing Harm and Controlling the Situation


If you know a loved one with a drink or drug problem will be present for a family gathering, there are some things you can do to prepare beforehand. They range from the most ambitious, staging an intervention, to simply trying to avoid a scene. Regarding intervention, holiday gathering can be an ideal time to stage an intervention because it’s a time when loved ones are already assembled in one place. You can use the emotional and sentimental weight of the holiday to impress upon the person both the love you have for them and the need for change. Offer help or treatment as a gift. If you are just looking to minimize the chaos or avoid a relapse on Thanksgiving, here are some tips to help there:

  • Agree not to serve alcohol at your event if an addict or alcoholic will be attending, or at minimum be discrete about it and try avoid anyone getting noticeably tipsy. 
  • Keep alcohol in an isolated area, instead of spread all around the room to help reduce temptation or encourage overindulgence. 
  • Speak to family ahead of time about the issue. If someone is in recovery, discuss ways to respectfully support them. 
  • If someone attending is active addiction, consider ways to reduce the risk of harm or drama in addition to limiting the amount of alcohol present. Think about seating arrangements and activities for example. 

Holiday Interventions 

There’s no rule that interventions need to occur on the holiday, but if you’re worried about someone and they aren’t getting better or helping themselves, it’s an idea worth considering. Ideally you should hire a professional to aid in an intervention, but there are books on the subject you can get if you want to or need to try it without professional help. The key is to have a plan and to stick to it. Everyone involved must be ready to not enable the person if they refuse help and hold the line. You must have treatment lined up and ready to go if the person does accept help. Best case scenario, you want to get them admitted within 24-48 hours of the intervention. 

A person caught in the throes of addiction may not always seem to want help. This can be incredibly painful to watch as a loved one or family member. Remember that while you can’t make someone else recovery, your hands aren’t completely tied here. You can let the addicted person know that they are loved and that you are ready to help them get sober. Tell them you understand addiction is a disease and it isn’t their fault, but it is their responsibility to accept help. Consider intervention, professional or otherwise as an option for someone who is refusing offers of help. 

What if I’m Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol? 

If you are living with addiction and about to gather with family or friends for the holiday, there is an opportunity for change. You are lucky enough to have a place to go on the holidays and you will see people who care about you. What better time to get honest and ask for help? If you’ve been debating with yourself about whether or not you can overcome addiction on your own, STOP. There’s no reason to go it alone. There is strength in numbers. Recovery is hard so you want all the support you can get. Don’t let pride or fear stand in your way, use this time with your loved ones to come clean and ask for the help you need and deserve. 

Getting Help for Yourself or Someone Else

Addiction is an insidious illness that can destroy lives and relationship. It steals from us and steals our potential and joy. It also steals love and compassion. Sometimes it even takes our loved ones from us forever. But as long as there is life, there is hope. If you need help yourself or want to learn more about treatment, intervention or other options for your loved one, give us a call. Absolute Awakenings is ready to help. (866) 768-0528