Surviving the Holidays When Someone You Love is Addicted

A woman grieves and worries about an addicted loved one over the holidays.

The holidays are coming up. You’ve invited your loved ones over for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Eve. But this holiday season that should bring you joy brings you apprehension instead. Why? Because one of your most loved family members is addicted to drugs or alcohol. And that means that you never know what will happen when they show up at a family event.

How can you survive this holiday season, given this heartbreaking situation? Here’s some suggestions to help everyone survive the coming holiday season intact.

  • Plan an alcohol-free event. In fact, store every ounce of alcohol somewhere under lock and key. No, we’re not kidding. If you have someone susceptible to drug or alcohol abuse, why tempt them? Move every beer or bottle of scotch somewhere that it truly can’t be found. Otherwise, this person could search for your liquor supplies while you’re otherwise occupied. Inform your family that you’re starting a new non-alcoholic tradition. If they’ve heard about the problem your addicted loved one has been having, they should understand.
  • Lock up all your medications. Don’t leave them in medicine cabinets, bedside tables, purses, closet shelves or drawers. If you don’t have a locking cabinet, get a locking box at an office supply store. If all else fails, put all your pills in the trunk of your car and keep all the keys in the pockets of responsible, non-addicted adults.
  • Also lock up credit cards and cash.
A person steals a phone and valuables from a home.
  • When your addicted loved one arrives, you’re going to have to keep him in view. As long as he (or she) is in active addiction, the drive to get the funds for more drugs could very possibly overwhelm his love for family and loyalty to those he loves. It’s not true for every person, every time, but he could be tempted to pocket small items like iPods or phones so he can trade them for drugs.
  • Don’t approach the event with an idealized expectation of a warm, wonderful gathering. You need to be realistic when you are inviting an addicted person into your home. They will NOT be at their best. You should not be hurt or take it personally that they don’t open their hearts and their arms to all the other members of the family. Be prepared to be gracious and patient. Encourage other family members to be the same way.
  • Tell the person before arrival that they are not expected to bring presents. Inform any children ahead of time that this person’s visit is not about receiving presents from them.
  • Definitely don’t give this person a bunch of valuable gifts. If you must give them gifts, give them very personal items that are of little value to another person. Such as an inexpensive, no-name, warm jacket or wool socks. Maybe an inexpensive backpack with toiletries and nutritious snacks.

So why invite the person at all? To show your support. The rejection they have suffered already seems to be evidence of their worthlessness. They’ve lost everything they care about or they are on their way to that point. They have probably lost multiple jobs and money is non-existent. They have few or no friends they can trust. Your open hearts at this time of year could be the influence they need to realize their desperate need for help.

What About Getting this Person Help?

If you haven’t seen this person for months, you’re going to be tempted to take them aside and beg them to please, for you, stop using drugs. You might break down into tears. You may be overwhelmed by your fear for that person’s life. That’s a completely understandable reaction. But it’s the wrong thing to do.

The most likely response to your efforts will be to drive the person away and to keep them away. There is a way to offer help when this person arrives for a holiday event but that’s not it.

Brother and sister make plans to help a sibling in trouble.

If you’re going to approach the person at this time about getting help, get fully prepared first. Do your homework and select a rehab. Work out financing and know what would be involved with getting the person through the door—for example, are there children to be taken care of, is the person working, are there legal situations to be dealt with? Work out these details before you talk to the individual, otherwise, you could get mired in making arrangements instead of being able to whisk the person away to rehab.

The most effective way to bring the matter up is in the format of an intervention. We have several articles that can help you. The key idea in an intervention is keeping the process as direct, focused and objective as possible. It would be a sacrifice for the whole family to redirect a holiday event to an intervention but it is a small sacrifice if it saves that person’s life. If your situation is like that of most families with an addicted loved one, this could be the only time you see the person for months. Use it well. Use our articles, study other articles and books on interventions and do your best job.

Do’s and Don’ts for Dealing with an Addict in Your Life

Helping Someone with Addiction? Tip: Don’t Judge

Drug Intervention—What is an Intervention?

How to Support a Heroin Addict Without Enabling

How to Get an Addict to Seek Help

If you don’t succeed, that would be the time to call in a professional interventionist to help. Call our helpline for assistance in locating an experienced interventionist. Call 1-800-737-5280 today so you can turn this year’s holiday event into a life-saving experience for your loved one.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.