Dealing with an addicted loved one during the holidays

Photo credit: Kozzi

Ah, Christmas!

The very thought of it brings to mind warm, loving families, cozy fireplaces, sugar plum fairies, and the very gifts you’ve been secretly hoping for.

Definitely the most wonderful time of the year…


Unless you are the loved one of someone with an addiction—and then that beautiful snapshot can look completely different.

In truth, the Christmas season is the most difficult time of the year for people who love someone struggling with addiction. The anxiety that accompanies the holiday season is often unbearable for both addicts and their loved ones. But the difference is that there is a lot of help out there for people with addictions—and not very much at all for the family and friends who suffer and struggle right along with them. And, of course, the irony is that for every addict, there are numerous loved ones affected by that person’s addiction.


Think about it—for every one person dealing with an addiction, there are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, friends, teachers, fellow students, co-workers, bosses, doctors, therapists, and often countless more people whose lives are touched by this devastating situation—even beloved pets can be affected!

And unless loved ones are going to a support group such as Al-Anon, Ala-Teen, ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families), or CODA (Codependents Anonymous), they are far more likely to keep their emotional turmoil to themselves rather than talk to other people about what they are going through. This creates an increased sense of isolation and shame, because loved ones of people with addictions often don’t realize that a great many other people just like themselves are also isolated in their own feelings of shame and guilt.


When we grow up in a climate of addiction—whether the addictive behavior is alcohol, drugs, disordered eating, smoking, gambling, sex or relationship addiction, or compulsive overspending—we learn at an early age how to pretend that everything is okay. We watch others in our families do that, so we basically learn from ‘experts’ how to present that stiff upper lip. Sometimes we keep that façade going well into adulthood, trying desperately to control everyone and everything in our lives so that others won’t know what’s really going on for us behind our closed doors. Essentially, we vow that we won’t let anyone truly know us, so that we won’t be judged or abandoned by our friends—or even by other family members.


When we can begin to understand that keeping these secrets is often a family legacy – one that we don’t have to buy into anymore—we can also begin to heal. We learn that we can make different choices that will actually help the situation instead of just enabling it to continue.

How can we do that? We heal by talking with others about what is truly going on and how we really feel about it, without having to put on that façade of everything being ‘in control’. I deeply believe that our real strength shines through when we decide to be authentic in our relationships with others, allowing ourselves to be emotionally vulnerable—the very thing most of us were taught in our families not to be.

Please know that it takes tremendous courage to go against our family values, to do whatever is necessary to move away from being in the problem and choosing instead to be in the solution. Until that decision is made, even by only one person in the family system, no healing can take place for anyone involved.


If you are the loved one of an addict or alcoholic, you are most likely facing this upcoming holiday season with equal portions of fear, anxiety, shame, and guilt. Those very feelings fly in the face of the often ridiculous hype we see in the ads portrayed on TV during the months leading up to that one day of the year when we are all supposed to be loving and jolly.

For those of you who have experienced year after year of increasingly stressful and unhappy holiday times, I would like to pose the good ol’ Dr. Phil question: How’s that been working for you? Like most loved ones of addicts, your answer is probably something like “Not very well.” And if that is your answer, then my next question to you is: Are you willing to try something different this time?

Many of you will respond with a resounding “YES!!” followed closely with “But what should I do? How can I make this year’s holiday different than other holidays have been?”

Let me suggest a few guidelines to help you do exactly that:

See video

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