Overcoming Substance Abuse During the Holidays 2021

The holidays have a way of bringing families together with camaraderie, gratitude, transformation, and rebirth. Thanksgiving, the holiday season, and New Year’s all follow each other in quick succession. Typically, this is cause for celebration and a joyful time of year; however, the holidays can be really hard in some cases. For those who struggle with addiction, the family can sometimes be triggering or problematic, causing guilt and shame for the person in recovery, not to mention for someone who is in active addiction. 

In active addiction, the holidays invariably become stressful and cause feelings of vulnerability. For people we love and care about, coming together for Thanksgiving is about big dinners and sharing stories, Christmas is about gift-giving, and New Year’s is about reflections of the year and how to move forward. When an individual is addicted to drugs and alcohol, there’s a lot of stagnancy and avoidance, making connections difficult, when others have little inhibition to immerse themselves in friendship, self-reflection, and foresight.

Getting Through the Holidays Sober

David Duffy, the Clinical Director at Harbor Village, explains addiction like this: 

“Folks during their active substance use tend to isolate, and one of the main reasons that they isolate is not because they want to be alone. It’s because they are extremely fearful of accountability, while our loved ones and our support network are those people that will hold us accountable. If they hear us slurring our words, or if they notice us doing things that are unhealthy like using drugs or alcohol, they may say something about it.”

From the family’s perspective, holiday gatherings can be emotional. Family members may feel distressed because they want their loved one to be the person they were or should be (from their perspective). This can be disheartening and sometimes causes the person to feel like they are not enough or blame themself. Seeking family therapy that involves communication and psychoeducation can have the most impact on overcoming these barriers. 

Eric Aday, one of Harbor Village’s primary therapists, says: 

“One of the hardest things is to communicate, because it takes both people to communicate honestly and not only communicate, but to listen to what’s actually being said.”

Ways Families Can Support Loved Ones Through The Holidays

  • Help loved ones follow all treatment recommendations
  • Encourage total abstinence from drugs and alcohol
  • Help with building good coping skills
  • Reduce family friction 
  • Encourage attendance to peer support groups
  • Know the signs of relapse
  • Ask the loved one how to support them best

Active addiction exacerbates the holiday stress when the family fixates on helping their loved one receive professional help. Furthermore, interacting with family members, being held accountable, comparisons to others, and not meeting expectations can cause a lot of emotions and anxiety for the person struggling with addiction. A consequence of having active addiction during the holidays is the overuse of drugs and alcohol in an attempt to feel numb and escape reality. Substance abuse can lay a foundation for more acute and life-threatening consequences. Family members should recognize the dangerous components of addiction and bring this to their loved one’s attention.

 David remarked:

“I think it’s just about being supportive and identifying the safest way to help someone in active addiction. Sometimes confrontation can work. Sometimes it can’t. We’re all unique individuals, and we respond to different interventions in different ways.”

Tips for Holding a Substance Abuse Intervention

  1. Choose the people involved sensibly 
  2. Talk at the appropriate time
  3. Use a private location
  4. Come with a game plan for who speaks and when 
  5. Organize rehearsals
  6. Don’t talk out of turn
  7. Use friendly body language and tone of voice 
  8. Don’t lose control of tempers

Seeking help for active addiction is one of the best gifts someone can give themselves and their family this holiday season. Whether it’s attending a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or attending alcohol and drug rehab, those struggling with addiction should seek appropriate support during the holiday season. 

Holidays at Harbor Village

The holidays are in full swing during rehab at Harbor Village. We provide an assessment process that identifies what each client expects from the holidays. We can provide an environment of care tailored to their social and cultural needs to celebrate the holidays, which can even involve families if one chooses, and clients get to help decorate accordingly. 

David goes on to explain one of the favorite features at Harbor Village: 

“We’re going to be certainly focusing on gratitude in November leading up to Thanksgiving. One of the things we plan on doing is getting a giant pumpkin in the middle of the living room with a Sharpie, and every morning each client can write one thing they’re grateful for on that pumpkin. So when Thanksgiving comes around, we’ve got a giant gratitude pumpkin and to be able to see how much there is to be grateful for in life because sometimes in active substance use, it’s hard to see those things.”

We have holiday-related games, watch holiday movies, and focus on the holidays’ spirit, emphasizing togetherness, gratitude, and rebirth to continue transforming their lives. Being in a controlled environment away from drugs and alcohol is a true gift. Treatment is a gift. When we realize that recovery from addiction is an investment into the person struggling with substance abuse, it’s also an investment into the family system. Families and clients will be more open to attending treatment during the holidays when they still receive the holiday cheer that comes along with treatment. It’s about living healthier, happier lives. 

Addiction recovery during the holiday season is beautiful. It allows us the opportunity to look at things a little differently. Therapists can help us reflect on situations more positively by working with clients both one-on-one and in a group setting. During the one-on-one sessions, they are tailored to fit the individual needs of each client. However, the therapists are also there to help plant the seed of hope. When that seed of hope is planted, as treatment progresses, it will grow and begin to blossom. 

Eric’s message is:

“For those who are sick and suffering, those who are conflicted, those who are contemplative, what we can offer at Harbor Village is a possibility to find a connection.”

Call Harbor Village today to learn more about treatment during the holidays at 844-391-3054.


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