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Addiction During the Holidays: 8 Ways to Keep the Cheer Alive

The holidays are a time for co-workers, family and friends to draw together and share in the cheer of the season. However, for people struggling with addiction the holidays can bring with them more stress, tension and anxiety than ever, and that’s not to mention the extra fear of relapsing. Remember that for people around you in recovery, the holiday season can be particularly challenging.

The National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA) revealed that in America there are about 40 million addicts. And that accounts for over half of all the adults in the U.S. The bad news is that with so many addicts in America, every one of them can have a negative impact on about four other people in their closest social circles.

In order to maintain sobriety during the holidays, addicts may cause damage to themselves or the people around them because the temptation to use during the holidays is just too powerful.

Celebrating Cheer While Maintaining Recovery

According Dr. George Cave, with Malibu Hills Treatment Center there is strength in numbers. The good news is that there is a consensus on the number of proactive protocols that actually work! Here are the 8 most effective guidelines to help you through the holidays, while navigating around the unique challenges of long-term recovery.

  1. The 3 C’s. According to Dr. Cave, there are 3 C’s of addiction that you need to remember.
  2. Cause. When dealing with an addicted person during the holidays, you must remember that anything they do is on them. You did not cause the addict’s behavior. So there is no need to take responsibility for their actions. You didn’t do it, or cause it. They did.
  3. Control. You cannot make any person do something they don’t want to do. Free will goes along with every human being so don’t think that anything an addict does has anything to do with you. If they cannot control themselves, why should you be able to?
  4. Change. Never allow an addicted person to make you feel frustrated in your own life, or powerless to change them. That is their job. You can only ask a person to recognize their poor behavior, and want to make a change. You can never do it for them.
  5. Learn to Love. No matter what happens during the holiday, you can still get through it with love. If you have someone around your social circle struggling with addiction, or if there is someone in your family in recovery it can be difficult for you to enjoy your own holiday without becoming angry, or irritated at the person with an addiction. Try to remember, that no matter what that person did while they were addicted, or as they take on the rocky path to recovery that you can still love them. You may not love what they do, but that doesn’t mean you cannot continue to love the addicted person while they try to get sober.
  6. Make a New Memory. Holiday traditions are wonderful, but they may also be a trigger for relapse in a person with an addiction. So, if you have some traditions that include alcohol, maybe this year is the year to try something new! People in recovery are usually very open to new things so why not try a sober alternative to any of your traditional favorites? Try a new virgin drink recipe and make a toast to sobriety. Or even allow  the person in recovery to share a new sober way to celebrate with you! It’s a fun way to get everyone involved in the holidays.
  7. An Early Night is A-OK! The holidays include wonderful days and nights filled with excitement and celebration. But that can take a toll on your energy levels, especially for people in recovery. So, remember that if you are hosting a holiday event, or party that you allow anyone invited to leave early. This way there is less pressure on those trying to maintain sobriety to linger, and ultimately reach for a drink. This is a quiet kindness that you can extend as a host to make the night of festivities easier on those who are working to stay sober.

If you are someone in recovery, and you need to leave early because you are tired, or simply need to attend a meeting or just get out of the way of temptation, try saying this, “I need to leave early for another engagement.” Saying something like this lets the host know that you are not avoiding their event, and still keeps the mood light and cheerful without revealing too much about your recovery.

  1. Bring a Buddy. Dr. Cave suggests that you take a sober friend, or another person in recovery to any holiday event if you want to make things easy. If you are hosting a holiday party, and you know that you will be inviting addicts to your event you may also want to anticipate that by inviting more people you know in recovery to attend. Also, encourage anyone in a rehabilitation treatment program (12-step or non 12-step) to bring their sponsor, or any other recovery companion they want to along. Studies have shown that sober friendships are one way to effectively promote successful long-term recovery.1
  2. Have a Plan. Addiction is a disease. And because people in recovery cannot always predict where their illness will take them, it is important to always prepare for the worst with a plan for holiday happiness in the event of an emergency. All joking aside, addicts are extremely good and manipulating others with their behavior. There is a good chance that someone you are going to have at your holiday event already has a pattern of destructive behavior they are going to bring along with them. So, create a sober contingency plan in case they decide to go back to their old ways. Remember: The plan is to hold an addict accountable – at all costs!
  3. Make a Promise. When you are dealing with an addict, you may not know if you can trust them. If you are worried that their behavior may disrupt your holiday, Dr. Cave suggests saying something like, “We love you and want you to enjoy the holidays with us, as long as you stay sober. In the event that you drink/use, we ask that you promise to immediately seek help.” Having a person in recovery make this promise to you may seem intimidating, but it’s ok to ask an addict to make a promise. This way, they know you are working with them to help them achieve lasting sobriety. And that’s a good thing!  You may offer a promise back to them in return like, “As long as you make an effort to commit to your sobriety, I promise to support you.”
  4. Get Yourself Support. When you have an addict in your workplace, social circle, or family you may feel like you simply don’t know what to do to help them. Remember that recovery is a process that can take up a lot of your energy. So, even if you are not an addict yourself you may need to get support as you approach the disease of addiction. Organizations available to help include Al-Anon, Alateen, Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) and Co-Dependents Anonymous (CODA) – and all of the information is there for you absolutely free!

The holidays are a time of year to celebrate your loved ones! So, never feel afraid to include those you care about who are in recovery. You can make these 8 small adjustments to keep holiday cheer alive!



  1. Kathlene Tracy, Samantha P Wallace. Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction. Subst Abuse Rehabil. 2016; 7: 143–154.


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