For many people, the holiday season holds memories of celebrations past and anticipation of new memories to share together. For some, the holidays can feel like an obstacle course through a minefield. If you have a loved one who uses drugs or alcohol to excess frequently, you may be concerned that the holiday atmosphere will give them yet another reason to be a little too “merry” this holiday season while you deal with the aftermath. It can make you dread the rounds of holiday parties and cheer that, for you and your loved one, can seem to spell trouble. This holiday season can be different for you if you’re ready to consider some different options for the season.
For some, the swirl of the holiday season can bring up anxiety that a loved one may overindulge in holiday cheer at holiday and office parties or family celebrations. You can help reduce your holiday stress and that of your loved one just by unlearning some substance use myths and approaching the situation from a different perspective.
Get Educated and Let Go of Myths and Misinformation –
Our culture is rife with movies, television shows, and cultural references to substance use and how it affects people but much of it is wrong or overstated. We refer to these ideas as myths of substance use and addiction. Some of these myths have entered our collective cultural consciousness so deeply that they appear to be facts.
One of the most important myths to free you and your loved one from this holiday season is the idea that people use substances because they are compelled to do so. All substance use is a choice followed by behavior that acts on that choice. There are no cravings, compulsions, or triggers that force someone to use substances against their will. While it may seem disheartening to know that every use of substances was the purposeful decision of your loved one, it’s actually good news. If we were truly in the power of substances, there would be no way to change or move beyond addiction and yet millions of people do so every day.
You and your loved one can stop blaming the substance and own your choices. As someone who loves a heavy drinker or substance user, you need to know there is no all-powerful substance that makes your loved one choose to use. They use because they choose to do so and they can choose not to use.
Be Positive but Set Limits—
Limits that is on YOUR behavior! You can’t control your loved one. You can decide how you wish to behave and set limits on your choices. It’s not helpful to you or your loved one if you act in a threatening, cajoling, pleading, or coercing manner or try to manipulate your loved one’s behavior. Once you decide to give up the idea that you can control your loved one’s behavior, you may find a huge burden is lifted off both of you. You’re not responsible for their choices—they are.
Be Supportive –
Discuss ahead of time with your loved one what events they want to attend and the choices they want to make about substance use during those events. If they want to skip an event this year, it’s not the end of the world. Be supportive of their decisions, especially if they are dealing with new behaviors like moderating or abstinence. A change in behavior can take some adjusting, often more for the people around your loved one than for them.
You can be supportive by being positive about their new behavior choices. It’s not about deprivation at all. It’s all about them making the choice that has the greatest potential for the best outcomes for today and tomorrow. So have a game plan and stick to it!
If your loved one chooses to moderate their substance use this season, you can feel it’s a scary decision for them to make. You may be worried that they will overindulge as in times past. If your loved one is clear about why they want to use and have put aside myths of substance use and addiction, moderation is an option, however trying to moderate while hanging on to addiction and substance use myths is a recipe for disaster. Your loved one can’t successfully hold onto feelings of powerlessness and attempt to moderate—the two positions can’t work in practice.
If you or your loved one wants to end their dependence on these myths and really break free from addiction, consider reading The Freedom Model: Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap. It covers much more than we can go over in a single article and can help your loved one end their reliance on myths and misinformation and end addiction without fear. The Freedom Model can help you not to rely on myths and misinformation as well. More importantly, The Freedom Model can help you free yourself from the anxiety, guilt, and resentment that can be a part of loving someone who is a heavy substance user. Happy holidays to you and yours and enjoy the season with good will and cheer!