The holidays can be a special time to be close to loved ones, but this year the COVID-19 pandemic is a source of increased anxiety. In addition to typical holiday stressors, like the need to find the perfect gift or tension among extended family members’ families will be trying to navigate the holidays while staying safe from the virus.

This holiday season may be an especially difficult time for individuals in addiction recovery as stress and loneliness caused by social distancing measures can lead to a return to negative coping habits. If your loved one is in recovery, your support and consideration during the holidays could greatly ease their anxiety and make it more enjoyable.

Here are our tips for supporting a loved one in recovery during the holiday season:

  1. Consider where they are in recovery. Maintaining recovery during the holidays can be difficult, and if your loved one is at the beginning of their recovery journey during COVID-19, the isolation of social distancing can make it even more challenging. If your family is celebrating the holidays apart this year, take the time to check in frequently with your loved one in recovery. You can send care packages or watch your favorite holiday movie together virtually. The first year of recovery is difficult and loneliness can be triggering, so make the extra effort to let them know they are loved and supported.

If your family decides to have a small, socially distanced gathering, your loved one may be uncomfortable by alcohol at the festivities, or they might want to have a friend in recovery accompany them for support. Be open to all possibilities that could help ease their stress. It’s okay to reach out and ask what would make them most comfortable. Ask them about their triggers and how you can help to avoid them. Showing you care will make them feel supported and the open communication will help you both manage expectations.

  1. Offer space and flexibility. The 2020 holiday season comes with new stressors. Families will be forced to make difficult decisions about how to celebrate safely during COVID-19. If your family decides to have a socially distanced gathering, your loved one in recovery may not feel comfortable attending for many reasons. Don’t pressure them into decisions that can cause unnecessary stress.

If your loved one does attend, make sure they have the flexibility to step away if they need a moment or want to attend a support group. Let them have the space to check in with themselves without feeling judged.

  1. Prioritize family and friends. The holidays can come with a lot pressures, like picking the perfect gifts, impressive holiday décor or hosting a great celebration. The pressure will be different this year as many families will have virtual gatherings or just celebrate with the small group of loved ones that live with them. No matter how you celebrate this year, it’s important to avoid putting too much pressure on the occasion. An environment with the pressure of perfection can be triggering to someone in recovery. Make this year’s priority taking advantage of the opportunity to spend time with loved ones virtually or in a small group.
  2. Don’t make alcohol the focus. For some, the holidays include social drinking and in the socially distanced world of COVID-19, virtual happy hours have become very popular. However, someone in recovery may be uncomfortable in a situation with social drinking. Consider excluding alcohol from the festivities or adding new traditions that don’t involve drinking. Focus on catching up with loved ones or having meaningful conversations. Whether you are together or visiting by video chat, share reminiscences while baking cookies, drinking hot chocolate or learning a new game. Search for fun virtual games online if your family is staying distanced over the holidays!
  3. Be prepared. Even with these precautions, it’s important to understand addiction is a disease and there is still a chance your loved one may not be able to avoid temptation. If they are unable to maintain recovery during the holidays, know the next step. Remember, CleanSlate has been providing uninterrupted telehealth services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and is available during the holiday season for extra support.

The most important thing you can do for your loved one is to listen to and be attentive to their needs. Check in with them throughout the holidays, in person or virtually, and offer support when you can. Remember, you can’t control your loved one, but you can do your best to ensure they enjoy the holidays and help minimize unnecessary stressors.

James Meacham M.D.