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Staying Clean During the Holiday Season

Staying Clean During the Holiday Season

By Matthew Null, Referral Development Manager in Gaudenzia's Central Region

Getting and staying clean is a challenge at any point in the year, but especially during the holidays.  It takes total commitment not only from the person with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) but also the loved ones who support them. This season is full of holiday cheer, work parties, wine around the dinner table and lots of temptation and stress to a person in recovery. Here are some ways we can all be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.

Tips for Friends and Family of a Loved One Who Suffers from SUD:

1.       Don’t add to the level of stress

The holiday season is a stressful time. Placing shame and guilt on a loved one to get help will often push them to using rather than actually getting help. The amount of shame and guilt on a person in active addiction is massive. These feelings and they desire to hide from them are often a driving force behind a person’s use. Shame, guilt, anger and yelling will not work.

2.       You might be unknowingly enabling

Enabling is a very complex topic to navigate. Family members generally know that providing money to a loved one addicted to drugs and/or alcohol is not a good idea so might get a gift card instead. Their theory is that with a gift card to a local store or to buy groceries is a wise thing; much better then providing cash. Please know that within seconds of opening the gift card a person can have them cashed into a lesser value of money and use that to buy their drug of choice. Gift cards are not recommended.

3.       Don’t wait until after the holidays to seek treatment

If the decision to seek treatment comes down to whether or not your loved one can attend the holidays, just know that no one wants a loved one to miss the holidays. However, missing one holiday is ok, knowing that then you might have many more to spend with them. Right now it is life or death.

4.       Seek help for yourself

You cannot expect the loved one to get help if you yourself does not get help. If you do not know what to get them as a holiday gift tell them that you went to a support group. An article like this can provide some advice, but it’s not enough to fully prepare you. Finding some help for yourself is critical.

Tips for Friends and or Family of a Love One who is in Recovery:

1.       Be supportive

Creating a supportive network for your loved one in recovery is paramount. Whether they have three weeks or 30 years clean please respect their commitment to not putting a drink or drug in their body.

2.       Have non-alcoholic alternatives, respect their choices

When it comes time to for the Holiday Dinner Toast provide a non-alcohol alternative. Don’t make a big deal about it. Please note that there is a good chance they are stressing over that 30 seconds of a toast. Respect their choice not to drink. Never pressure a love one to have a drink. Even if their drug of choice was not alcohol, a drug is a drug is a drug.

3.       Just be there

Be there for them. A phone call or checking in with a loved one is a wonderful thing to do. If there is an event where there is temptation, go with them. Talking is a major healing modality in recovery. Ask your loved one to go for a walk, help hang up lights, mash the potatoes and just talk. You will both feel better. 

Tips for a Person in Recovery:

1.       Have a game plan

You have stayed clean this long, even if it is a few days, weeks or years, do not let some eggnog take away your clean time. You know your triggers. Be prepared for them and have a plan in place. Plan your holiday. Surround yourself with those who support you. Have your exit planned. If you don’t feel comfortable or starting to experience triggers get out. Stay busy but in a healthy way. In those plans make sure you plan to attend some meetings.

2.       People, Places and Things

If you are in recovery you know what I am talking about. Sometimes it is hard to avoid these things but let’s steer clear of them these holidays. If you just can’t avoid something take help with you. Ask a recovery ally to go with you.

3.       Make new traditions

The holidays are full of traditions. Why not make some new traditions to support your recovery. Okay, in the past you might have been drunk or high as a kite for New Year’s Eve. How about this year you start a tradition to spend it with sober friends?

4.       You’re not alone

You do not need to feel this way any longer. There is help and people do recovery. There is no better gift that you could ever buy your family/loved ones then asking for help and seeking treatment. Make this a real holiday to remember, make it your clean date.

Tips for Everyone:

There is no way to really know who in your life suffers from SUD. So please be mindful of the following:

1.       Holiday Season is full of parties and gatherings.  Be responsible.

2.       If you have any prescription medications you must lock them up and hide them in a safe place. Visitors will ask to use your bathroom in hope of finding some medicines.

3.       Never pressure someone into having a drink. Always have a non-alcohol option. We think of the high school party and peer-pressure to drink but adults are just as guilty.

If you or a loved one needs help or has questions, please go to and click on the “I need help” or “My loved one needs help” button.
Category: Addiction, Advocacy, Education, & Support,Behavorial & Mental Health
Serving about 19,790 individuals annually, Gaudenzia operates 180 drug and alcohol treatment programs at 105 facilities for men and women in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. Services include specialized programs for pregnant and parenting mothers, adolescents, and people suffering from co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse.

Mission ~ Gaudenzia helps individuals and families affected by drug and alcohol dependency, mental illness, and related conditions to achieve a better quality of life and become accountable individuals.

This is accomplished through a continuum of care leading to long-term recovery guided by a philosophy of mutual concern, personal responsibility, research, and community education.

Philosophy ~ We are here because there is no refuge, finally, from ourselves. Until people confront themselves in the eyes and hearts of others, they are running. Until they suffer others to share their secrets, they have no safety from them. Afraid to be known, they can know neither themselves nor any other; they will be alone.

Where else but in our common ground can we find such a mirror?  Here, together, people can, at last, appear clearly to themselves – not as the giant of their dreams, nor the dwarf of their fears – but as individuals, part of a whole, with a share in its purpose.

In this ground, we can each take root and grow, not alone anymore as in death, but alive to ourselves and to others.
Gaudenzia gave me the tools to reach heights I never would have dreamed possible.
Rick - a real estate analyst and former Gaudenzia patient.