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Support a Loved One in Recovery at a Holiday Party

Two People Hug at a Holiday Party
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For many of us, the holidays represent a time of gathering — often with relatives we may or may not get along with. It’s no secret that with the pressures of holiday shopping, cooking, and navigating complicated family dynamics, this joyous time of year can be stressful too. Social pressures combined with an increased presence of substances like alcohol can make family gatherings especially challenging for individuals in recovery from a substance use disorder (SUD).

While folks in recovery themselves may want to check out our blog post with 8 Tips to Stay Sober During the Holidays, today’s post covers 5 strategies for friends or family members who want to help support a loved one in recovery at a holiday party this year. Keep reading to learn more.

Need help with addiction treatment? Please call Gaudenzia’s 24-hour Treatment and Referral HelpLine at 833.976.HELP (4357) or email [email protected]

A person holds a Kwanzaa gift

Support a Family Member in Recovery During the Holidays

Individuals in recovery — especially folks in early recovery — typically work hard to understand and navigate potential relapse triggers. This might include the presence of substances like alcohol, but it can also include navigating challenging relationships or dealing with family members who do not understand or support their recovery journey. Each year, drinking tends to increase during the holidays, which means family members in recovery may find themselves navigating more potential relapse triggers than usual.

It’s important to understand and accept that a loved one in recovery may choose not to attend a holiday gathering as a measure of self-care. If you plan on inviting a family member in recovery to a holiday party, or if you know you will attend one together, there are several ways you can support your loved one and help ensure the holidays are a time filled with joy and connection.

Let’s look at 5 strategies for supporting a loved one in recovery this holiday season.

Learn About Your Loved One’s Needs

Check in with your loved one on whether they feel comfortable attending a gathering where alcohol will be served. Likewise, ensure they are comfortable with the idea before deciding not to serve alcohol in support of their recovery. While some folks openly share their recovery status, others prefer to keep this information private and would rather avoid calling attention to their sobriety. 

If a loved one in recovery plans to attend your holiday gathering, having an open conversation about their needs ahead of time can go a long way. Try to learn more about potential relapse triggers and your loved one’s strategies for staying sober. This will help you better understand what to avoid, or how to interpret certain decisions. If your loved one decides to leave early, for example, it helps to know this is part of their self-care strategy and not a personal affront.

Schedule Engaging Activities

Gathering with friends and family members we don’t see often can be a great way to reconnect, but it can be an intense experience as well. This is especially true when conversations start to center on one person or their preferences, such as a loved one’s decision not to drink. Be sure to offer plenty of engaging holiday activities that offer breaks from conversations and help shift the focus to group experiences. This may include providing a variety of ongoing activities like board games, video games, gift swaps, or playing holiday films in a room where individuals can take breaks from the group when they need to.

Likewise, if your loved needs to step away from a conversation or activity to spend some time alone, provide spaces for breaks and respect their decision to prioritize their mental health.

A group of people light sparklers

Offer Non-Alcoholic Alternatives

Holiday gatherings can sometimes inadvertently center food and alcohol, so it’s important to offer non-alcoholic alternatives. Don’t just fall back on water, juice, or soda though — offer fun and unique non-alcoholic beverages that everyone will want to try! This might include beverages like mocktails, sparkling apple juice, or sodas you don’t typically find at the grocery store. Putting a little extra thought and effort into what’s offered can help your loved one in recovery feel seen, respected, and included.

Invite Your Loved One to Bring a Friend

Many folks in recovery work hard to build a sober support system. This may include friends or family members who are also in recovery, peers from recovery support groups and meetings, or individuals who understand your loved one’s needs and can support them at your event — perhaps by choosing not to drink for the evening. Extend an invitation for your loved one to bring a sober friend or someone who is part of their sober support network. This can help combat feelings of isolation.  

Address a Relapse Immediately and With Compassion

If your loved does experience a relapse during the holidays or at a holiday event, do not shame or blame them for relapsing. Approach your loved one with compassion and empathy. It’s essential to stay supportive and encourage them to seek help right away, whether they decide to reach out to a sponsor or contact a treatment center. Many SUD treatment providers are open year-round and may offer 24-hour support — even on holidays. Gaudenzia’s 24-hour Treatment and Referral HelpLine is available 24/7/365 at 833.976.HELP (4357).   

Encourage your loved one to seek help immediately, rather than waiting until after the holidays, or after a holiday event. Always prioritize mental health and recovery over social expectations.

A woman sits playing with children

Support a Loved One in Recovery This Holiday Season

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by holiday stress, especially if you are unsure of how to support a family member in recovery. With a little extra patience, empathy, and understanding, however, you can help ensure the holidays provide an opportunity for joyful connection. Seeing the effort and knowing there’s a strong support network among family members and/or friends can help individuals in recovery feel valued, respected, and accepted.  

If you or someone you love needs treatment for substance use and co-occurring disorders, please call Gaudenzia’s 24-hour Treatment and Referral HelpLine at 833.976.HELP (4357) or email [email protected]

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