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The Holiday Season Can Bring New Obstacles For Addicts, Here’s How to Help

Holidays bring out “the more, the merrier” in all of us. More gifts. More cookies. More parties. It’s hard to resist – even for the most disciplined among us. But for people who struggle with addiction or are in recovery, the holidays can be some of the hardest days of the year to get through.

If left unidentified, a compulsive behavior can turn into a new addiction. Even if your substance recovery is strong, you can’t ignore the fact that other addictions can come forward.

Notice the Signs

During the holidays “relapse radar” should kick into full gear. Here are some things to look out for that could signal you need more support:

  • Feeling behaviorally or emotionally off. Holidays can bring up shameful memories or make you anxious about to whom and how to disclose that you are in recovery.

  • Spending more money. Especially if it’s beyond what you budgeted for holiday spending.

  • Craving comfort. Food is something we all crave and most of us use it to comfort ourselves or tamp down negative emotions.

  • Feeling a need to find that special someone. Many people in recovery may not be able to celebrate holidays with family, or they may feel guilt or resentment. It’s not unusual to overcompensate for those feelings with sex.

Put Support in Place

How do you stop before you continue your compulsive habits into January, then February, and on into the new year? Not by muscling through, that’s for sure. These are some steps you can take:

  • Contact the people in your support network and find ways to talk about what you are feeling and doing. Add therapy sessions to your regular schedule.
  • Write down your goals and review them daily. “I will make gifts this year instead of buying them.” “I will not put on any more than five pounds during the holidays.”

  • Set up a daily mental health housekeeping system. Step 10 of the 12-Step program encourages us to take a personal inventory of our behavior and actions every day.

  • Prepare beforehand. Before parties, ask the organizers about the menu. Make sure there are non-alcoholic drinks. Make a plan for how to eat in moderation.

The Supporter’s Role

If you are a trusted family member or friend, you can support the person struggling with addiction or in recovery. The best place to start is by addressing the issue directly: How can I help you during the holidays? What do you need from me? If you are hosting a gathering, ask what kind of drinks and food you can offer. Make sure to have non-alcoholic drinks and dessert on the menu.

When It’s Time to Get Help

It’s important for those struggling with addiction — and those who support them — to be aware of signs that the original addiction or a new one may be taking hold. At Caron, we typically see three types of relapse scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: There’s potential for a compulsive behavior/addiction to take off.

  • Scenario 2: A newly acquired compulsive behavior leads someone back to their initial addiction.

  • Scenario 3: Compulsive behavior continues and may cause some life issue (doesn’t become a full-on addiction).

For scenarios one and three, intervention to point out that there is a problem is probably the best first step. Ask the person what sort of care he or she feels they need to deal with the issue and then support them to take that step. It could be a deeper commitment to their 12-Step program, signing up for an outpatient program, or going into an inpatient program.

If the problem is a return to their initial addiction, it’s best to find a program with a relapse unit, similar to the one we have at Caron. Elements you should look for in a relapse program include evidence-based practices, an emphasis on holistic assessment and customized treatment, use of historically proven methods like cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, 12-Step programs, and a positive peer culture.

“The more, the merrier” is not a useful holiday slogan for any of us. For those dealing with addiction, the “more” needed is more attention to how we are feeling, what we are doing to deal with those feelings, and more reliance on the support system we have in place.


The holidays can be stressful for everyone, but particularly for addicts. If you or someone you love needs help, Caron Treatment Centers are here to provide addiction care and support for the entire family. Trust Caron to help pick up the pieces and put your family back together.


  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

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