Having a Family Member with an Addiction During the Holidays

Let’s face it. The holidays can be a stressful time for families – especially if you have a loved one with an 
alcohol or drug addiction.

guy with santa hat looking out of a windowFirst, there’s the frenzy in the air and what seems like a million things to do.  Second, our feelings are often magnified around this time. We may feel exhausted, over-committed and extra sensitive. We often expect everything to be perfect, aspiring to some idealized version of how things should be. But the truth is that life, especially with an addicted family member, can be messy and chaotic.

This can leave us feeling disappointed, frustrated or wistful.

You may feel alone – like you’re the only family in the whole world dealing with a substance abuse issue. Please know that you are not alone. And, while it may seem impossible to enjoy yourself when a love one’s life is out of control, there are things you can do to make yourself feel better.


This post, from The Center for Motivation and Change, offers guidance. We hope you enjoy reading it and that it inspires you to find some relief and happiness during this time of year and beyond.

By Cindy Brody, Director of Intensive Services at Center for Motivation & Change

sad person with a santa hat sitting in restaurantSometimes you might feel like you’re the only person in the world who loves someone with a substance problem.  The truth is that millions of people are walking down this challenging and often painful road along with you. As you’re dealing with all of this, you might notice that, on purpose or by accident, you start to pull away from other people and become more and more isolated, making it even harder to decide to reach out.  We encourage you to watch out for this and do what you can to fight against urges to go “underground.”  We are wired to be social creatures, and there is a lot to be gained from spending time with people, including their support!

You may have concerns about privacy, gossip, and the “public” perception of your loved one/yourself/your family if you put yourself out there and socialize more.  While those are reasonable concerns to think about, as you pick and choose who you do and don’t want to confide in, please do not underestimate the horrible toll that feeling isolated in a problem can have on you.  Isolation contributes to and can increase depression, anxiety, loneliness, and a whole host of other challenges that will not serve you well as you are dealing with all of this. Taking steps to add more social contact into your life can chip away various bits of the feeling that you are alone at sea. Even if you don’t feel that isolation is a big part of your stress right now, you might still consider setting some goals around socializing to see if it helps anyway.

Isolation can creep up on you.  This can be especially true for people who are used to being very busy and have a hard time fitting social time on the calendar, solving all of their problems pretty effectively on their own, not asking for help (or maybe even dead-set against it!), and feeling private or ashamed about this particular issue.  Remember this: You are not alone in this problem and fighting against isolation may well help you find solutions to your problems faster.

man sitting on tree stump in snowWe encourage you to consider picking one way you can reach out to another person/people during the holidays and continue to do so in the coming weeks and months. Remember that reaching out doesn’t have to mean that you share all your innermost thoughts and feelings with someone. It doesn’t have to be a confessional (though if that helps, then go for it), just a way to re-engage with the world in other than a “stressing out” way.

You can get support in all kinds of ways. Think about not only who might be useful to confide in, but also who is good at making you laugh. Someone who can distracting you, do something fun with you, and who is good at helping you feel comfortable and relaxed so that you can enjoy the holidays.


The Center for Motivation & Change (CMC) is a unique, NYC-based private group practice of dedicated clinicians and researchers providing non-ideological, evidence-based, effective treatment of addictive disorders and other compulsive behaviors. CMC’s treatment approach is informed by a strong commitment to both the humanity and the science of change, providing a unique, compelling, and inspiring environment in which to begin the process of change. Staffed by a group of experienced psychologists, CMC takes pride in their collective record of clinical research and administrative experience but most of all are driven by an optimism about people’s capacity to change and a commitment to the science of change.

Learn more about Center for Motivation & Change and read about our unique and effective approach to treating addictive disorders, and meet CMC’s directorial staff and clinical staff. To find more resources for families, please see our Parent’s 20 Minute Guide, and our Family Blog.  And to learn more about CRAFT, see our CRAFT Family Services page. Find us on Facebook and Twitter for additional content and the latest updates.


Parent's 20 Minute Guide

This 20 minute guide is intended for parents with teens or adolescents struggling with substance use who are looking for science-based ways to help them change.

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12 Responses

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    February 25, 2016 at 1:30 PM

    I have been thru many things in my life, thru these experiences I have found many ways to fight this battle head on, I no longer wonder what my children may have in the house or had in their clothes while they were out. We actually tracked down a private Narcotics K9 service, these people are beyond awesome, they come to my house on requested random basis and run their k9 Sonic thru my children’s bedrooms, their dirty clothes, their closets and all common areas in our home.

    I have finally gotten the ability to eliminate my fears, concerns, sleepless nights and restored the faith I once had in my children. This action may seem extreme, but very well worth it. I haven’t told my children this activity is ongoing, but if my children attempt returning to drug activities I will know upfront and quick. I want/need early intervention, God was looking over my family when he brought Ivan and Sonic into our lives.

    Our home had cocaine in one child’s pocket the first time but we have had a drug free home since that day, 3 months ago. This action may not be for everyone but when you love your children nothing is too extreme. I don’t know if there are private K9 services in all states, but I do want to say KUDOS to Superior K9 Detection in Superior, Nebraska Ivan and K9 Sonic are family life savers. Thank You!

    When it comes to your children, look at all options, we have to get our children on the right track.

    I pray for us all daily.

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    December 10, 2015 at 5:01 PM

    I have a 16 year old son that i have caught and confronted him about using marijuana 3 times in the past 3 years. Each time we have sat down as a family and talked about how it could lead to negative effects in the future and ruin his goals of becoming a Physical Therapist. He does well in school and is a honor roll student. As his mother i feel broken, ashamed and lost on what to do. Recently i calmly confronted him about his drug use and he openly admitted to me that he was in fact using marijuana because it made him feel happy. He said that i shouldnt be concerned about him because he is still passing and making awesome grades. His dad is not in his life and is a full blown meth addict. I mentioned to him that i did not want him to end up like his father and my son got very angry and stormed out. He came back and apologized to me but i have not brought up the subject until i am sure on what to say. It doesnt even feel like Christmas in our home since we are dealing with this issue. I just want the best for my son and i refuse to lose him to drugs.

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    December 8, 2015 at 9:19 PM

    My daughter is 45 years old .I am 66. I never wanted to think I could stop loving my child. This grown woman is lost to me. To be honest I made a lot of mistakes as a nineteen year old mom.The past is gone. I now know a lot about how her father and I failed her. However the last twenty years I have gone to hell and back ,nearly died trying to save her. No paternal help. I wish to heaven that there was something that I have not tried but trust me I have given all I have to give . I am fearful every time the phone rings but I am also waiting for her and my release from this demon called crack that owns her mind. I no longer think I help. I pray she saves herself. Meanwhile I want to live my life with a bit of joy .

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    December 8, 2015 at 1:39 PM

    I’m hoping someone can help me. My soon to be 25 year daughter suffers from heroin addiction. She has been in rehab twice. After the last one, she met this boy who is 28 in one of her meetings. I didn’t like the relationship but she and him both said they are helping each other. I always felt it was wrong and was Leary of him. They seem to be good for awhile, just a few days ago she and him started using again. Now my daughter still lives at home, and never saves a dime. She asked me to take her the hospital on Friday after she confessed she was using again. Now I told her Boyfriend and his parents that they can’t be together anymore. She needs to be by herself and work on herself. He don’t care, he don’t listen to anything we say. Last night she told me she is moving in with him. Please tell me what to do, do I let her go? She won’t go away to get help again, she said she will attend meetings. I’m so lost, I feel like to heroin users are not good they are not helping but hurting……

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