One in eight Americans meets the criteria for alcohol use disorder. This disease is more commonly known as alcoholism. Whatever you call it, the number of people suffering from it has risen since the first decade of the 2000s.
In other words, a lot of people are currently fighting a battle to stay sober. It’s a battle that only gets tougher during the holiday season.
If you have a loved one in recovery, it’s natural to try and help. But wanting to help an addict isn’t the same thing as knowing how to help an addict.
It’s possible to have good intentions but still make things worse. Here are some ways to help a recovering alcoholic get through the winter holidays.
Talk to Them Beforehand
Most recovering addicts don’t want to spend Christmas dinner regaling Grandma with stories of what life was like in detox. Expecting them to open up about their recovery over ham is invasive and rude.
But even if you would never dream of asking such questions, other relatives might not be so delicate. Talk to your family member before any big parties or events. This will allow you time to develop a strategy.
For instance, if someone says, “Joey just got out of rehab,” you can say, “We’re not here to talk about that” and change the subject.
Sure, your family member has a voice. They can decline to talk about it on their own. But this is one of those cases where a little backup goes a long way.
A lot of holiday parties have one guest who tries to push everyone else to drink. That’s annoying even if you don’t have a history of alcohol issues.
If this guest tries to push alcohol on a family member in recovery, you can swoop in and deflect them. Something firm like “He said no, so stop asking” can at least shame the offending relative into shutting up.
Be careful, though. Being a supportive relative who runs interference is one thing, but you don’t want to go overboard. There’s a fine line between helpful and condescending.
Sobriety encouragement means you’re sending a message like “I’m on your side, and I believe in you.” That’s a lot more likely to be useful than a message like “You need a babysitter because you cannot control yourself.”
Research Their Specific Addiction
Most people have trouble understanding addiction. You can help your relative by helping yourself to the vast trove of Internet research about alcohol and substance addiction.
If you know your family member went to rehab, do some research on the specific type of rehab. For instance, some treatments focus only on counseling and therapy. Options like medication-assisted treatment for recovery from addiction combine counseling with medication.
Some recovering addicts even benefit from unconventional treatments like hypnotism. If your loved one says they went through a specific type of treatment, don’t pepper them with questions. Let them talk about it as they see fit.
In the meantime, you can log online to answer any burning questions. Learning how to support an alcoholic in recovery can feel awkward. But you should keep most of those awkward feelings to yourself rather than blurt them out at the first opportunity.
Encourage Them to Take a Break
It’s true that there’s a certain amount of obligation baked into most family holiday gatherings. Something called “festive stress” peaks on Christmas Day. This time of year is draining even if you aren’t in recovery.
A recovering alcoholic may be better at saying no to a beer than they are to saying no to Aunt Lydia’s annual Christmas Eve party. Unfortunately, walking into a stressful situation makes them more likely to relapse.
If you can, find a moment to tell them that their health is more important than any party. If they need to leave early or skip out entirely, you’ll understand.
They may still get some grief from more obtuse family members. But knowing even one person gets it matters a lot.
Maintain Realistic Expectations
Christmas movies are great, but they also give us unrealistic ideas about how the holiday season should unfold. Someone who is feeling pressure to be flawless is more likely to slip up.
A single beer may not seem like a big deal to people without alcohol use disorder. But for people who already have a bad relationship with the substance, one drink can quickly turn into a bender.
If you already messed up and think everything’s ruined, then you’re more likely to keep messing up. A recovering alcoholic who thinks, “I’ve ruined Christmas by drinking,” might also think there’s nothing else to lose. If there’s nothing else to lose, why not keep drinking?
Relapses are common, but they shouldn’t be used as an excuse to abandon all progress.
Keep the mood light this holiday season. If you’re hosting dinner and someone drops a casserole dish, don’t get angry. Make a joke and help them clean it up.
Understand You Can’t Stay Sober For Them
You can do everything “right” and still find your family member hiding in the basement and drinking from a flask on Christmas Eve. If that happens, don’t take it personally.
Sure, it’s frustrating to see people make destructive choices. But it’s cruel and ignorant to say things like “I don’t understand why you can’t quit drinking already” or “
You don’t understand because you don’t have the same relationship with alcohol. It’s easy enough for you to stop after a couple of drinks.
Your loved one has to figure it out on their own. If they’re a member of a sobriety group, you can encourage them to call their sponsor. But you can’t live their life for them.
How to Help an Addict
Sometimes, helping someone stay sober means leaving them alone. Getting overly invested in someone’s sobriety means you need to take a step back.
Sobriety encouragement doesn’t mean pestering or nagging your loved one. If you already have a good relationship, then they know they can reach out to you for help.
In the meantime, it may help to focus on ways you can improve your own life. Check out our healthy living blog archives to find out how.