Christmas and the holidays can be a stressful time when we have
people in our lives who are struggling with addiction, whether it be
alcohol or other substances. While we cannot change other people,
we can change how we respond to them and their behaviour. Setting
boundaries and sticking to them is a great place to start.
Even during non-holiday periods, living with addiction can be a stressful, confusing
experience, where the abnormal becomes normal and everyone loses sight of what
healthy behaviour looks like. Spouses, partners, children, and other family members can tiptoe around someone in active addiction, trying not to rock the boat. Families begin
living a double life, attempting to manage the unpredictable actions of the addicted
individual whilst hiding the problem from friends and relatives. Christmas alone is likely
to put these relationships under even more pressure, especially in a post-pandemic,
We will all face uncertainty of some sort this Christmas, whether it’s the cost of living,
geopolitical turmoil or millions of other factors. For many of us this is challenging
enough, but for families walking on eggshells around addiction, Christmas 2022 could
be a make-or-break moment.
For many families, the additional stress may manifest itself in increased levels of harmful
drinking this year by a loved one. For the first time, families may come face to face with
a loved one who has unwittingly developed a dependency, is openly drinking or using
drugs. On the flip side, they may be hiding their true consumption levels; being secretive,
manipulative and behaving differently as a result. They might have reached “rock
bottom” which has made everything come out.
For families new to addiction, or who have reached their breaking
point after years of negative consequences, getting advice and
support is essential.
The problem of alcohol or substance abuse is often denied, not just by those addicted,
but by their loved ones too. Families experience stigma and a vicious circle of shame and guilt. Addiction is paradoxical – attempts to help can make it worse. For example, if you help someone cover up the consequences of a drinking bender, the unspoken message is that someone else will always clean up the mess and they don’t have to deal with the negative consequences of their actions.
Coping strategies are crucial for our ability to deal with having someone in our lives who
is addicted to or has significantly increased their consumption of alcohol or drugs. The
more we can identify what’s helpful and what’s not helpful and what doesn’t work, the
more resilient we will become in the long term. Coping strategies give us the opportunity to take responsibility in difficult situations by either:
• changing our role in the situation being experienced, for example by taking a ‘time out’
• changing the dynamics of the situation, for example by setting a boundary.
Healthy boundaries allow us to maintain our distance when it might be harmful to get
too close and to get closer to others when it is appropriate, and to. Properly set boundaries can also help prevent us from encroaching on other people’s boundaries. In relationships emotional boundaries allow us to:
• Clarify what is not acceptable and what is.
• Protect our physical and emotional space.
• Maintain a clear, robust sense of our own identity/feelings/needs.
• Prevent us from being taken advantage of.
Some boundaries, however, need to be rigid – because:
• Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
• No-one deserves to be lied to or betrayed.
• No-one deserves abusive treatment.
Boundaries may change depending on circumstances which can be healthy, for
example boundaries vary between stranger, friends, or loved ones.
Once you decide to set firm boundaries, it’s critical that you be clear about what you
need and what the consequences will be if the other person continues with
unacceptable behaviour but not try to control the outcome. You will need to be realistic
and carry it through – there have to be consequences for actions.
Al-Anon Family Groups
is a great resource and they offer some tips to help improve the
well-being of the family and to look after children in an environment with addiction
1) Practice you own self-care. Being a good parent means looking after your own
physical and mental health.
2) Maintain routines for children. Regular bedtimes ensure they get enough sleep –
they’ll be less likely to be irritable the next day.
3) Plan alcohol free activities – children can learn that socialising need not include
4) Listen, and talk to your children. Help them learn how to communicate difficult
emotions, instead of hiding them
If you believe that a loved one has an addiction and you want help get in touch with us today