Addiction is difficult on everyone involved. It takes a toll on not just the person who is addicted, but also those around them. In this blog, I will address why it is hard for the person struggling with addiciton, especially during the holiday season.
Why are holidays so stressful for those who are addicted? Depending on how far the addiction is, the person who is struggling with the addiction can experience an array of emotions around their specific addiction. For example, in my experience with those who are futher along in their addiction, they don't feel there is much to celebrate. They are so engrossed in their own experience, they often don't want to be around others who are enjoying the holidays because they don't feel the same excitement. To them, it's just another day full of darkness and others are getting in the way of their drinking/drug/behavior. Typically their drug of choice is really the only thing that has helped them cope - and sometimes they are noticing it is no longer helping. They feel stuck and hopeless. For those who have just begun their addiction, there can be a lot of anger around others pointing out the addiction. Most often they don't see what they are doing as an issue so being around others can be difficult because they aren't sure if they will be able to avoid being noticed if they engage in it. They don't understand why others get so upset and will ofen try to hide it to avoid an argument. For those who are in the middle of their addiction, there can be a lot of guilt/shame. It can be embarrassing being around others because they know they can't manage it, and there will be an argument over it. Overall, most addicts don't feel anyone will understand, and in their eyes, it may be easier to just stay at home alone or go out with those people who also share the same addiction.
Is there anything family and friends can do to support their loved one?
As difficult as this may be, know that it is not your fault. You can't make them stop, but you can protect yourself. These are the top four things to keep in mind:
1. Boundaries: If your loved one is being inappropriate or unsafe, do what you need to do in order to keep everyone safe. For example, if they typically drive your children after drinking, let them know you will have an alternative way for them to get home. You can also take their keys. If they choose to drive anyway, you can't physically make them get out of the car, but you can make sure no one else will get in with them, such as your kids. If they are physically hurting you, it is okay to call the police. I know that this may be hard because you do not want to cause more issues, BUT you are not a punching bag. We all need to experience consequences and if someone prevents us from experiencing them, we never learn. This may be what encourages someone to ask for help.
2. Open Communication: If your loved one is drinking too much in your eyes, it's okay to let them know that it is difficult for you to see them this way so you will be leaving (or doing whatever else you deem appropriate to take care of yourself in that situation). Don't make the mistake of calling them out and telling them they have had too much and need to stop. That will only cause an argument that you won't win.
3. Don't make it easy to engage in the addiction: Don't have it as readily availabe. If someone wants it bad enough, they will find a way to have it, but you don't have to help them get it.
4. Do a welfare check: If you are concerned that your loved one will attempt suicide and they are alone because they did not want to join you, you can either go check on them or have the police do a welfare check to make sure they are safe. This may also be difficult because you don't want to cause an argument, but it is better to have your loved one alive and mad at you then dead.
What can you do as the addict to get through the holidays?
Be safe. If you are going to engage in your drug of choice, do it in a way that will be the least harmful to you. If you don't know what that is, there are plenty of resources out there that will tell you. Know that your loved ones will not agree with your use because they care about you and feel as stuck as you do. They don't know how to help and often become dissapointed, hurt, and resentful. All the same feelings you've most likely experienced as well. If you want help, but don't know if you are ready to stop or reduce your use, there are therapists/facilities/hotlines that can help you decide how you want to move forward without forcing that hard line of having to be abstinent from your drug of choice. You just have to be willing to find them. Despite what you may think or what people may have told you, you are not your addiction. You may feel like you do not have a choice, but you do. There are always choices, even if we may not like them or see all of them. That's why there's help.
Next blog in the series: What Those Affected by an Addict Want You to Know: Part 3
1-800-821-HELP (Recovery support line. Available 24/7)
1-800-662-HELP (SAMHSA’s National Helpline. Treatment referral and information service. Available 24/7)