Addiction can be very difficult to cope with – not only for the person with the addiction but also for their loved ones. If you are dealing with addiction in the family, Christmas can be a very fraught and emotionally charged time.

Getting through the holiday period can be challenging, but there are some things you can do to help things move more smoothly, avoid conflict and enjoy a happy Christmas together. See our advice to coping with addiction in the family at Christmas here.

Understanding Addiction in the Family Context

Addiction does not just affect the person with the drug or alcohol problem. Their behaviour is also likely to affect partners, family members and, to some extent, friends and even work colleagues.

Every family situation is unique but some commonly recognised issues include unmet developmental needs, impaired attachment, economic hardship, legal problems emotional distress and even potential violence. Children witnessing substance misuse within the family are statistically more likely to develop a substance misuse disorder themselves.

There are two main ways that addiction and substance misuse can affect partners and other family members. The first is when the addict’s drinking or drug use directly affects other people. This could be through arguments or erratic behaviour, spending money that the family can’t afford, stealing, dishonesty and lies, mood swings, aggression, drunken infidelity and numerous other behaviours that are influenced by substance misuse and addiction.

The other is through concern that the loved one is harming themselves due to their behaviour. It can be very difficult to watch a family member damage their own health and life with substance misuse.

There are complex interactions and relationships within any family and addiction can add additional complications and strains to the family dynamic.

Recognising and Managing Holiday Triggers

The holiday season can sometimes bring flashpoints for families of all different kinds – even without addiction being an extra element. Christmas and addiction is an even more volatile mix and there are a number of triggers to look out for.

Perhaps the most obvious, especially if you are dealing with an alcohol addiction, is the presence of alcohol and opportunities for drinking that tend to be everywhere during the festive season. These opportunities can involve work parties and nights out, but also drinking in the home.

Other potential triggers can include:

General holiday stress – Buying presents, festivities and worrying about finances can be very stressful. This stress could result in an increase in substance misuse in someone who is not yet in recovery or a potential relapse in those who are.

Family conflicts – Family gatherings are not always as joyful and harmonious as we might wish, especially if the family lives apart and is not used to spending lots of time together. Rows and strained family dynamics can put added pressure on everyone.

Changes in schedule – A break in routine can be stressful and could increase the risk of relapse, especially in the early stages of recovery.

Setting Boundaries and Expectations

Dealing with addiction at Christmas can be a strain on everyone involved. There can be a tendency to make everything revolve around the person with the addiction, but this can actually make them feel under pressure and can be counterproductive. You may see the benefits of doing a sober Christmas, but this may be difficult.

It’s also vital that you look after your own health and well-being. After all, you can’t effectively offer support if your own well-being and mental state are suffering. Additionally, you should make time and space for other members of the family, especially if there are children.

Setting boundaries and managing expectations can help to deal with some of these issues.

Some reasonable boundaries could include:

  • Maintaining your own needs and protecting your own physical and mental space
  • Refusing to be taken advantage of
  • No lies or dishonesty
  • Being treated with dignity and respect
  • Absolutely no abusive treatment

Some other expectations that can help Christmas with an addiction go more smoothly could include:

  • Planning at least some alcohol-free time/activities
  • Talking to the person with the addiction to establish their boundaries
  • Making time for and prioritising children
  • Maintaining a routine for children – such as making sure they get a reasonable bedtime over the festive period.

Creating a Supportive Christmas Atmosphere

If a family member is spending Christmas in recovery, you should take their situation into consideration without having to put the entire focus on them. If other people are not particularly bothered about drinking you might consider an alcohol-free Christmas. This doesn’t have to be the case but you should plan at least some alcohol-free time. There should also be plenty of tasty alcohol-free drinks on offer for everyone.

Give them support but also give them space. If they feel they need to get away for a while or don’t want to get involved in everything you’re doing–especially if drinking is likely to be involved. At the same time, try to make yourself available if they do want to talk or spend time with you and other family members.

If they are not in recovery yet, you might want to have a talk about their drinking, substance misuse and related behaviour ahead of time. This can be a very difficult subject to broach but can be a very positive step forward.

If they do have an active addiction problem, you should not enable it by encouraging them to indulge. In some cases, this might even mean not gifting them money or things they can easily sell for ready cash.

Find Support Today

If you are coping with addiction in the family offering support is important, but it is likely that you will need professional help as well. Addiction is a complex condition and very difficult to tackle without expert guidance.

Professional counselling may be valuable for the family unit as a whole and focused addiction treatment can help the person with the substance misuse problem to kick their habit and begin a long-lasting recovery. Many addicts will be in denial about the extent or even the existence of their problem and sometimes a family intervention is needed to give them the impetus they need to make this change.

At Addiction Advocates, we have the expertise and resources to help you deal with every stage of addiction and recovery. We can help to arrange and carry out a professionally guided family intervention and provide the very best treatment in one of our residential rehabilitation clinics, even over the Christmas period.

We offer partner, parent and child referral as well as self-referral, so if you are worried about a loved one, get in touch today to find out how we can help.


  • [1] Children witnessing substance misuse within the family are statistically more likely to develop a substance misuse disorder themselves -