The holiday season is upon us, but it’s not necessarily merry and bright for all. During a time of year that’s fraught with stressors and triggers, here’s how to support your loved ones who are recovering from addiction and help them with staying sober during the holidays. 

Holidays, Stress & Addiction Recovery

One survey found that 84% of Americans feel moderate to overwhelming stress during the holidays. This number is even higher for people in addiction recovery—just a few points shy of 100%. 

Why is this so? On top of the typical holiday stressors like buying gifts, traveling to see family, taking part in social gatherings (not to mention finding a way to pay for all these things), and dealing with seasonal blues, people in recovery face the additional challenge of avoiding relapse while also still removing thelselves physically and psychologically from their past drug use. 

For this reason, it’s unsurprising that December and January are two of the three months where drug and alcohol-related deaths are highest, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

6 Ways to Support Loved Ones in Recovery During the Holidays

During a time of year when expectations are high and expenses are even higher, it’s important to have a holiday relapse prevention plan to avoid the “most wonderful time of the year” putting a loved one’s life in danger. 

Check-in regularly

The worst thing to do for a person in recovery who’s stressed out by the holidays is to leave them alone. A simple text or phone call can prevent them from feeling isolated. 

In addition to making a point to reach out to them, make sure it’s clear that you’re willing to be there for them when something comes up. 

Minimize financial stress

The holidays are expensive, which is why a person coming out of drug rehab and may not yet be back on their feet financially, might find this time of year highly stressful. Be sensitive to their situation and do your best to minimize how much they’ll need to spend. 

One way to do this is by changing the expectations about gifts, which are one of the main sources of holiday spending. Instead of a traditional gift exchange where a person might be expected to get a gift for each loved one, consider a white elephant gift exchange or secret Santa where a person would only need to buy one gift. 

Other ways to be considerate of a recovering loved one’s finances could include hosting a meal at home, rather than having everyone meet at a restaurant; keeping gatherings local to prevent your loved one from having to pay for transportation or accommodations; or relaxing the dress code to avoid the need to buy new clothes. 

Keep their secret (if it’s a secret)

Your loved one may not be comfortable with others knowing about their previous drug abuse or journey to recovery. Discuss how they’d like to handle these situations and have a few distractions up your sleeve in case a conversation turns to a subject that makes your loved one uncomfortable. 

Even in the instance that your loved one is okay with disclosing the full truth of their addiction recovery experience—let them take the lead about bringing it up.

Stay by their side in social settings

If this is their first holiday sober, odds are that navigating the festivities is going to be stress-inducing. Let them know that you’re willing to be their +1 and will help them navigate any uncomfortable or unpleasant moments. 

The season’s social obligations will be a lot less intimidating if they know they have a person looking out for them. 

Bring festive non-alcoholic beverages to gatherings

When hosting or attending a holiday party where a loved one in recovery will be in attendance, make sure non-alcoholic beverages are available—and not just drinks like juice or water. 

Instead, consider things like sparkling apple cider (which is a great substitute for bubbly champagne or Prosecco), or creative mocktails that are just as elaborate as their alcoholic counterparts. There are also several non-alcoholic spirits and beers available nowadays, which makes this even easier. 

This thoughtfulness will prevent your loved one from feeling like an afterthought. 

Hold them accountable

Last but not least, the best way to support a loved one in recovery during the holidays is to not use this time of year as an excuse to fall back into old habits. 

Make sure that they are taking care of themselves both physically and mentally; that they’re eating healthy food, getting exercise, taking any medication they’ve been prescribed, and still attending their recovery group meetings