Tips for families coping with addiction around the Holiday Season

How can you spot signs of addiction around the Holidays? And how do you act around someone in addiction recovery during the Season? Tips and information from Dr. Harold Urschel, MD here.

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Use the Holidays as an opportunity!

The Holidays are a special time of year, with many families gathering together for celebrations. We at Enterhealth – a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment company – hope that families realize that this period can also be one of the most stressful times of the year as well. For someone dealing with alcoholism or other forms of addiction, the winter holidays can be especially difficult.

Societal expectations, as well as the expectations of the season can overwhelm some people. In addition the days are shorter, and the reduction in sunlight during the day can lead to an increase in the chances of becoming depressed. This holiday stress can drive people to self-medicate, whether it’s with alcohol, or other drugs like marijuana or even prescription pills.

The Holidays are also a good time of year to really observe and evaluate family members, especially if you have concerns that someone may have a problem with substance abuse. The kids might be back from their first semester at college, a time when many people start to experiment with drugs and alcohol, and we often see out-of-town relatives for the first time in many months.

Spotting signs of a problem in a loved one

There are many signs to look out for if you think that a loved one is facing a problem with drugs or alcohol. Signs of an alcohol addiction problem and signs of a pill problem may or may not appear all at once. These can include:

  • dents in a car
  • odd changes in behavior
  • particularly secretive behavior
  • changes in peer groups
  • difficulty sleeping or staying awake

While none of these signs on their own are definite signs that someone may have a problem, it’s when they start to stack up that you should be concerned. Your loved one may not even recognize that he or she has a problem. As mentioned earlier, many times people start using alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism and don’t realize when something has become an addiction.

TIP 1: Don’t wait to seek help!

A lot of times people will want to hold off confronting a loved one until after holiday celebrations so as not to air their dirty laundry or impose on anyone during the celebration, but we advise against waiting. If you help them recognize the problem early and take steps to seek treatment, you may be able to prevent severe or even life-threatening consequences of addiction.

TIP 2: Make your celebrations drug or alcohol free

At the same time, if you have a loved one who you know is a recovering alcoholic or addict, your family needs to understand no alcohol or drugs should be around them at any family gatherings or celebrations. We recommend that patients in recovery wait at least a year before being around alcohol or drug use. Your loved one has a brain injury and is trying to get sober, and when he or she sees their drug of choice, certain parts of the brain can act irrationally and try to drive the individual back to use.

Think of it this way: if you knew a loved one was trying to lose weight, you wouldn’t put cookies in front of them. You want the family celebrations and bonding to be in substance-safe environments, people in recovery get enough temptation from things like commercials, social media, etc. If family members cannot abstain from a substance to support a loved one in recovery, then maybe that person should consider whether or not he or she has a problem themselves.

TIP 3: Know what to do to support addiction recovery

If you or a loved one is an alcoholic or a drug addict in recovery, here are five tips that can help you help them over the holidays:

……….Tip #3.1 – Spend Time with Sober People

Alcohol recovery can be tough, especially during the holidays. It’s important to be around positive and sober people for support. Observing them will motivate you to emulate their behavior of not drinking.

……….Tip #3.2 – The “I’ll take a soda” Approach

You can have a drink this season – a nice cold soda or some other non-alcoholic beverage. While it’s hard to avoid alcohol when you’re at a holiday party, you can combat it by substituting another beverage in its place, but do NOT use nonalcoholic beer or wine, as they have some alcohol in them and can set off certain brain areas and reactivate intense brain cravings for alcohol.

………..Tip #3.3 – Manage Your Stress

Stress is one of various factors that can increase your need to reach out for a bottle of alcohol in order to cope. Remember, you can help manage your drinking problem by managing your stress. Find other ways to deal with stress such as talking with a friend or family member, exercise, or have a set time in the day where all you do is relax!

…………Tip #3.4 – Indulge Yourself

It’s hard for many to stop drinking, especially during the holiday season. You can benefit from not yielding to the temptation of drinking by rewarding yourself for every time that you don’t drink. Indulge yourself with a small gift, candy bar or anything else that brings you happiness.

…………Tip #3.5 – Have a “Plan B”

When battling an addiction, it’s important to have a plan just in case you find yourself in an environment where there is alcohol present and you cannot handle the temptation. Having a plan and knowing how you’re going to handle the situation will help you significantly. Tell a family member and/or close friend about your recovery process, and call them in case of an emergency to help you in those situations.

Need help with addiction during The Holidays?

Sometimes it takes more than helpful tips and family support to remain sober during the holidays. Enterhealth, a Dallas-based alcohol and drug addiction recovery center, offers a customized science-based model of addiction that reverses the effects of substance abuse on the brain.

To learn more about how Enterhealth Ranch and Enterhealth Outpatient Center of Excellence, as well as more helpful tips for staying sober this holiday season, please call 1.855.393.8656 for more information, or visit our website at

About the author
Dr. Urschel is Co-Founder and Chief Medical Strategist for Enterhealth, one of the finest residential and outpatient treatment programs in the nation. Known as one of the country's foremost authorities on substance abuse and addiction, Dr. Harold Urschel is the author of the New York Times best seller, “Healing the Addicted Brain.” He is a coveted speaker on substance abuse and the latest treatments of the chronic brain disease of addiction on both the local and national stage.
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