CARBONDALE — Holidays can be stressful, but that stress often is multiplied for families who have a family member or close friend who is in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction or has an active addiction.
Anna Jurich, executive director of Gateway Foundation, says communication is the key for navigating through the holidays. It also is important for that communication to go both ways.
“One of the things we have been talking about a lot with people in early recovery in the pressure to be involved in family events,” Jurich said.
Family gatherings often mean those in recovery will be around alcohol. Likewise, it is stressful for family members who do not know what is and is not appropriate.
Jurich thinks it is OK to ask the person in recovery to share how they're feeling.
“It’s important for people to get as much info as they can,” Jurich said.
Guilt from past actions may make it difficult for the person in recovery to come back and talk through those things.
Good self-care is important for those in recovery. Besides eating well and a getting enough rest, make a plan for holiday gatherings that may offer temptations and continue to follow your individual recovery plan.
Jurich said one thing that can help is continuing to attend self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, even if that means missing a family event.
The host also can offer some nonalcoholic drink options, not only for those in recovery. Some people choose not to drink or may be worried about medication interactions. For example, alcohol can interact with a common diabetes medication.
“For families with active addiction, I always encourage everyone to reach out to self-help groups,” Jurich said. She added that groups like Al-Anon and Alateen are good places to pick up ideas.
Again, she stresses the importance of communications and suggests addressing the elephant in the room.
She thinks it is OK for the host to talk about past behavior and what is and is not acceptable. Or, to tell the addict if he or she comes to Christmas dinner drunk or high, he or she will be asked to leave.
“Hiding or covering up the problem causes more stress,” Jurich said. “Tell them ‘We want you to be part of the family and be included, but in a way that everybody feels safe.’ People don’t know what somebody needs from them if they don’t say it.”
Most families know there is a problem before anyone talks about it.
“I think it’s important for family and friends to realize that if someone is using during holiday events, it is not because they do not respect boundaries,” Jurich said.
She thinks there has been improvement as far as public awareness due to significant amounts of overdoses and death. Drug overdose recently became one of the leading causes of death for adults in the U.S., she said.
“Opiates and drug additions have been taking lives for a long time. That includes alcohol,” Jurich said.
To find an Al-Anon or Alateen meeting, visit al-anon.org