Surviving the Holidays When You Love an Addict: 10 Strategies and Tips

Here we are again, right in the middle of the holiday season and all the stress that comes with it. Things can feel intensified, though, when one is in relationship with someone who has an addiction. For some of us, addiction has affected many holidays past. For others, maybe this is the first year we’ve known about our loved one’s compulsive behavior (i.e., an affair was discovered or long-held secrets were revealed). Regardless of your circumstances, if your loved one is engaging or has engaged in compulsive behaviors (like excessive drinking or drug use, porn use, sexual behaviors, excessive shopping/spending, compulsive overeating or eating disorder behaviors, etc) and the deception that goes along with it, chances are you feeling apprehensive about the next several weeks.

We are going to explore 10 tips to help you navigate the holiday season. Many family members and partners of addicts focus on staying “emotionally sober” throughout this time.  Emotional sobriety can be defined as the ability to manage our feelings without our feelings controlling us. Our emotions will likely range the span of comfortable to uncomfortable over the next few weeks. Not letting them get out of control or overwhelm us will be key to helping us stay centered as we face holiday activities.

This post assumes you are in recovery from the effects of a loved one’s addictive behavior (whether you’ve been hurt by someone’s use of alcohol,drugs, gambling, sex, porn, work, food, etc.). If you haven’t begun your personal recovery process or are very new to it, some of these tips may seem odd or undoable. That’s o.k. Take what fits for you and leave the rest. If you need help knowing how to start your personal recovery journey, contact us or read about our services on our website.

As you read on, write down ideas that resonate with you (and any others you may think of). Put your list in a visible (to you) location and start practicing these tips now. You don’t have to wait until you’re triggered. In fact, that would be the hardest time to get started! When we’re triggered our ability to think clearly is compromised. Practicing new tools head of time will make it more likely that you will use them under pressure.

Here are 10 tips for getting through the holidays sane and sober:

1)    “Accept ourselves, our situation, and our feelings about the situation" when we feel betrayed, hurt and out of control.


This little quote from a daily reader called Language of Letting Go (Mellody Beattie, pg. 370) is great for kicking off our tips for surviving the holidays. As you face this time of year,you may be feeling pain, fear, and a lot of uncertainty. Its o.k. You are not alone. There are so many people who are experiencing these same feelings. The first step through this part of your journey is to accept that you are here. This is what’s happening and these are your feelings about what’s happening. You don’t have to put a happy face on it. You don’t have to make the holidays perfect for everyone else. You can just be here, now, with these feelings.


2)    Minimize time with triggering people, including family and friends.


This may be first holiday season after discovering your loved one’s addiction or maybe your past holidays have been ruined because of their behaviors. Possibly, this is the first holiday season with your loved one sober and in recovery. Any of these circumstances can make being around family and friends this season difficult or painful. Maybe doing the holidays a little different this year is in order so you can better take care of yourself. Consider the following options:

  • Skipping visits with extended family or lovedo nes altogether,
  • Focusing on your immediate family, local recovery support, or local friendships,
  • Making visits to loved ones’ brief,
  • If you travel, considering staying in a hotel room so you have a safe place to go when you get overwhelmed,
  • Asking your addicted loved one not to travel with you or make alternate holiday plans.  

Making these decisions can be tough. Your loved ones may not understand your choices. Remember, no matter the short-term disappointment, your long-term recovery is more important to you and your loved ones than missing a few days of visiting this holiday season.


3)    Create a schedule of structured support.


Having structured support can be very important in the healing of family members, partners, and loved ones of addicts. Structured support typically includes self-help or mutual-help groups like Al-Anon, S-Anon, or other 12 Step meetings. Alternatively, these might include Celebrate Recovery or virtual groups that focus on helping family members recover from the affect of addiction on their lives. It is highly recommended that you:

  • Find ways to continue attending your 12 Step, Celebrate Recovery, or other group meetings while out of town. Even just one or two planned meetings while you are visiting others or having guests can mean knowing you have a safe place to go where people understand what you’re going through,
  • Use the prevalence of phone and video meetings to your advantage. Right now, so many groups are making meetings available virtually, so attending meetings is possible almost anywhere you go.
  • If you don’t attend meetings or can’t find your kind of meetings, experiment with groups that are available. You never know, these may become a permanent part of your recovery support!

Whatever you do, don’t wait. Make a meeting plan now. If you’re concerned about others knowing, find meetings that occur earlier in the morning or later in the day when you will not be missed from family gatherings. This is too important. Your stability is worth some inconvenience.


4)    Keep it Simple


Even without an addiction in the mix, holidays carry so much extra stress: traveling, fitting in visits to everyone important to us, finding the perfect gifts for our loved ones, making sure weare putting our best face forward. It’s a wonder any of us survive it! With the extra stress of caring for our recovery, things can get hairy.  

So, keep it simple this year. Throw the idea of perfection out the window. Find ways to simplify or eliminate travel plans and keep visits relatively short (or not at all). Find simple ways to say I love you without having to find the perfect gifts. And don’t worry about looking good. Try just showing up as yourself.


5)    Lower your expectations

I recently heard a recovery expert, Dr. Allen Berger, say “don’t expect things to be different.” What he meant was: how people behaved last year is probably how they behaved the year before that and before that. And it’s a good indicator of how they’ll behave this year. One of the ways we can maintain our own emotional sobriety is to stop expecting people to change. When we don’t expect others to change, we can make better choices for ourselves. We can establish new boundaries that will help us take care of ourselves, regardless of what the other person chooses to do, or not do. What’s more, their behavior will be less upsetting to us because we didn’t give ourselves false hope that, somehow, they would be different this year. If you need help establishing your boundaries, see our video and blog post series about the BASIC 5 of Healthy Boundaries.

6)    Blink, Breath, Bathroom


I learned the 3 B’s of stress management from a mentor: Blink, Breath, and go to the Bathroom. Let’s break these down a bit:


A.     Blink – when we are stressed or feeling threatened in some way, we can get tunnel vision. Our eyes may get big (because our survival system wants to make sure we can see any threat that may come our way) and we may forget to blink. Or, more generally, we may get frozen in our stress. So, move your body. Blinking or just shifting in your chair can remind you that you are o.k. It can break the trance and get you unstuck from feeling like you’re trapped, you’re in danger, or you can’t take care of yourself.

So, just blink, turn your body slightly, move your feet, gently pat your own leg or arm. Remind yourself that you are safe, everything’s o.k., and that this discomfort will pass soon.


B.     Breath – Taking deep breaths also helps us remember that we are o.k. Again, when we feel threatened or stress, our breathing may become shallow, or we may find ourselves holding our breath. Focusing on our breath can get us re-grounded in the moment. Taking this even further, it can be helpful to let ourselves focus on all our senses. Take time to notice what you see, hear, feel on your skin, smell, and taste. Focusing on these experiences in the moment helps us to get centered and remember that we don’t have to react to everything around us. We are safe and we have choices.

 C.     Bathroom – Sometimes we just need to take a break. Bathrooms are great because people rarely will argue with us if we say, “Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom.” When we are in the bathroom (or someplace private) we can blink and breath. We can make a phone call or sent a text to someone in our support system. We can say a prayer or maybe even do a little writing if we bring some paper or a pen with us (or journal on our phone). Getting re-centered in this way can help us make loving choices for ourselves and about the way we will treat others. Going to the bathroom isn’t the only way to accomplish this, of course. We may also take a short walk, go sit in our car for a minute or take a short drive, or find another private place to reconnect with ourselves.


7)    Stick to healthy routines and structure


If you are new in recovery, you are likely creating new routines and daily habits for yourself. During this time, try to stick to as many of these new behaviors as you can. For example, we easily throw good sleep habits out the window when we are vacationing. Use caution! Our sleep habits are foundational to most of our other habits. If I go to bed late, I’ll likely wake up late. This means I may not have time to do my usual morning time of connecting with myself or my Higher Power or do my daily recovery readings. It’s possible that missing this time will mean I start my day off on the wrong foot, or that I’m a little more irritable than usual. This makes me more vulnerable to lashing out or treating myself or others in ways I don’t want. All of this leads to me losing my center and feeling disconnected and ungrounded.


Missing routines for a day or so may not have such dramatic affects. However, when I’m on vacation for a week or more and continue to miss these self-care behaviors, my body, my heart, my mind, and my loved ones will definitely start to notice. What’s worse, missing these routines while on vacation may make it that much harder to get them back when my life returns to normal. So, try to stick to your routines as much as possible. Your recovery will thank you!


8)    Ask for Help

Let’s face it: when addiction is present in a relationship, it is typically the non-addicted family member or partner who is the “overly responsible” one. We are so used to over-performing and over-functioning that we don’t even see it as a problem. Heading into the holidays with this pattern of behavior means our system is already stressed out. Now we are adding holiday stress as well as the stress of our loved one’s addiction on top of that. This is a great way to get sick, get overwhelmed, and/or get out of control.

Rather than trying to do everything yourself this year, try asking for help. Let other people take over some of the tasks needed for these holidays. Or, just let it go. It’s o.k. if Thanksgiving isn’t perfect or Christmas doesn’t come off just right. If other people aren’t willing to take over a task, maybe it isn’t as valued as you think it is. Instead, focus on what matters most to you and consider how you can take care of yourself.

When you’re not so busy taking care of everyone else, you will have more time to enjoy this season. The holidays may be harder for you this year than in years past. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your loved ones, have a good time, and accept invitations that sound pleasant to you. Part of self-care is engaging in activities that are fun or meaningful to you.


9)    Use your support system


I know, I know… it’s hard to make yourself call or text people for support through the holidays. After all, aren’t they trying to celebrate with their family and loved ones? Who am I to interrupt their celebration with your problems? They’re going to think I’m crazy calling them about these silly things. These are the things that our shame tells us to keep us from getting the support we need to stay grounded and healthy.

The truth is other people have the ability to take care of themselves. If they can’t respond to a text, they won’t. If they don’t want to answer the phone, they’ll send it to voicemail. So, we are only “bothering” people who are open to being available in that moment. Also, if these are other people who are trying get and stay healthy, they are actually helping their own recovery by being of service to you.


How can you get support over the holidays?

  • If you haven’t already, attend recovery meetings and get phone numbers of people who seem to have solid recovery,
  • Ask them if you can contact them over the holidays for support,
  • Make a plan for reaching out,
  • Make goals like: call or text 3 people a day. Or set your phone alarm for regular intervals (i.e, every 2 hours, or 1 hour, or30 minutes). When the alarm goes off, reach out to someone to check in.

10)  Don’t take responsibility for your loved one’s sobriety or recovery


The fact is, if you could control your loved one’s addiction, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Al-Anon has a saying: “You didn’t Cause it. You can’t Control it. You can’t Cure it.” These 3C’s are helpful to remember that no matter what you do this holiday season, your loved one’s sobriety will be ENTIRELY their responsibility. So, take that off your to do list.

This is easier said than done. We ask ourselves, “What if they ruin the holidays for everyone? What if they get drunk (or act out, or get high, hit on my sister, or get in a fight, etc., etc) again? What if they cause a scene?” and many other questions. We believe if we intervene, we can prevent these things from happening. The truth is, we can’t. The best we can do is take care of ourselves and establish our own boundaries. So, rather than controlling your loved one’s behavior consider ignoring it or making requests that help you distance yourself from it. For example:

  • If your loved one is high, consider ignoring it unless they are creating a problem,
  • If they are creating a problem because of their addiction, ask them to leave the room or the house until they are sober or for the entire holiday,
  • If they can’t stay sober (with sex, or substances, or otherwise), ask them to sleep elsewhere,
  • If their disturbance is so severe that someone (or they) might get hurt, call the police.

It’s important to remember that your loved one’s addiction reflects poorly on them, not you. There is no reason for you to not enjoy your time visiting with your friends and family, even if your loved one chooses to not be present due to addiction.


Remember, you will celebrate the holidays every single year. It’s o.k. if this year looks different. Your recovery will make it possible to celebrate all future holidays with genuine health and connection. Practice these 10 tips and before you know it, you will wake up to realize that you made it! You survived the holidays. Take time to express gratitude – to yourself, to your higher power, and to those who helped you stay emotionally grounded and sober through a stressful time.



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