Managing Family Dynamics During the Holidays…Sober!

Managing Family Dynamics During the Holidays…Sober!

Managing Family Dynamics During the Holidays…Sober!


By Sarah Allen Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC, AADC

The holidays are quickly approaching, and this may be both a blessing and curse in terms of family dynamics.  While it may be easier to avoid uncomfortable family interactions throughout the year, holiday celebrations bring family members together.  For those in recovery from alcoholism, this may also be a challenging time emotionally and in terms of staying sober.  Even those without Substance Use Disorder (SUD) problems may find that they are drinking or using substances more than they have the rest of the year.  But why?

People drink and use substances for a variety of reasons.  For example, a social drinker may drink in order to feel relaxed, they enjoy the taste, and the social aspect as well.  This is a season of family gatherings, work holiday parties and celebrations.  Some people are not necessarily drinking and using substances in order to “cope” with the holidays, they may choose to use these many celebrations as an excuse to drink more than usual.  However, there are others who drink and use substances in order to cope with family tension.  Alcohol is a depressant and therefore has a calming effect on the nervous system.  It is also a legal drug that is often part of holiday family gatherings, and therefore is readily available and socially acceptable. Marijuana is now legal in many states and may be socially acceptable in some family gatherings as well. This time of year can feel lonely and isolative for some people who may start to assess the past year or compare their current life to those in their family or colleagues.  For those with family issues, this time of year can intensify conflicts or lead to interactions with family members they may have avoided the rest of the year.  Those in recovery from SUDs need to take extra precautions in terms of planning ahead for relapse prevention purposes. It is certainly possible to cope with family holiday events and throughout the year that does not involve drinking alcohol.  However, this will involve having the strength to set consistent limits and boundaries:

  1. Set limits in terms of the amount of time spent in stressful family situations
  2. Bring along a friend or other loved one to a family function for additional support
  3. Attend therapy in order to address family issues and learn effective coping strategies
  4. Choose not to attend stressful holiday family events
  5. Offer to attend or have a “virtual” holiday event to decrease the intensity
  6. Leave the event early
  7. Be sure to have transportation options that will allow you to leave the event early if necessary
  8. Have a friend who you can call for support during the event and take a “time out”
  9. Focus on spending time with a family member at the event who you have the healthiest relationship to and avoid the “toxic” relationships
  10. Keep an open mind and allow yourself to have a new and possibly better experience this year with family over the holidays
  11. Practice stress reduction techniques during this time of year (ie, exercise, meditation, massage, etc.)
  12. Plan a holiday event that will include your close friends and loved ones whom you would enjoy spending time with in order to offset some of the more obligatory events.                                                                      
  13. Be honest with yourself about your limitations                                                                                                                            
  14. Avoid “people pleasing”, as this involves trying to keep other people happy while neglecting your own needs   
  15. Let go of other’s expectations and opinions—If you have a healthy relationship, then they will respect your personal choices                                                                                                                         
  16. Don’t forget to laugh!  Find some humor in the situation.                       

The In-Home Addiction Treatment (IHAT) model is designed to support clients in navigating their home environment during their first year of sobriety- which is often a vulnerable time.  Treatment Teams are able to support clients in real time with the potential upcoming holiday events and family dynamics.  They can collaborate in setting up wrap-around services and tailored care that can organize the often overwhelming early recovery process.  The New Year is also approaching, which can symbolize a time for change.  If you are a healthcare professional who has interest in being trained in this innovative treatment model, then the IHAT Institute is available to train staff in CT, MA, NH, ME, RI, FL, IN and now in VA!

Photo Credit: “Thanksgiving 2012” by bunnygoth is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0


1 Comment

Jack Perry
Love it. I am going to share this information with my clients.

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