How I Helped My Adult Child with Their Addiction During the Holidays

The holiday season can be a tough time for anyone, but especially for those with mental health challenges and substance use disorders. The stress, the expectations, depression, being around certain people, seeing others drink can all trigger relapses in people who are in recovery. Helping a sober loved one get through the holidays without relapse can be difficult but is so important. There are things you can do to be supportive and to help a family member make good choices.

My adult child has struggled with addiction for years, mostly drugs but also alcohol. As the holiday season came around last year, I knew he would struggle not to relapse. He was just a few months sober after finishing a long stay at rehab and we were desperate for him to be successful and to avoid relapse.

The holidays can trigger a lot of difficult emotions for everyone, including stress and anxiety. For our son, this time of year presented an even bigger challenge: Could he go to parties, see other people drinking, and manage his own heightened anxiety without relapsing?

Anxiety Led to Substance Use Disorder

My son has struggled ever since he was a little boy with anxiety. It wasn’t until I did some research and found out that his symptoms aligned with anxiety disorder that I truly realized he had a mental illness. He was clingy as a young child; he worried more than seemed normal about school; he got very upset when things weren’t perfect; and he frequently had a hard time sleeping at night, even after long, active days.

His anxiety disorder has plagued him all his life, and he has taken major strides in managing it. But before he learned how to meditate and practice other healthy coping strategies, my child unfortunately turned to drugs. He started on pills kids brought to school and eventually turned to narcotics and heroin. We got him into a great residential treatment program, where he learned to live sober, and he is now in recovery.

The holiday season increases anxiety and stress for anyone. But for my son, who struggles every day to manage anxiety and to avoid using drugs again, this time of year is fraught with risks and dangers. I worry constantly about the possibility of relapse. Here’s how I helped him get through this season last year.

I Helped Him Be Proactive About His Anxiety

Anxiety is a big trigger for my child. His go-to strategy for coping with it has long been to reach for drugs or alcohol. During the holidays, we already knew that statistics show mental illnesses tend to get worse. Most people with some mental illness get more frequent or intense symptoms.

Knowing that his anxiety would likely get worse with the stress, pressures, demands, and expectations of the holidays, we took steps to manage it proactively. I encouraged him to go back to a couple of therapy sessions per week. We talked about his relaxation strategies and coping mechanisms he learned in rehab and started using them in advance of stressful situations, like parties.

We Kept Busy

I know that my son’s drug use is triggered by anxiety but also by boredom. His anxiety also causes him to get apathetic. He freezes and feels like he can’t or doesn’t want to do anything besides sitting on the couch at home. So, as a family we took charge and made sure to keep busy, planning activities, spending time with friends, and going to parties.

We also did some volunteer work together. I knew that giving my child something meaningful to do would be even more powerful. As a family we went to a local soup kitchen several times. We prepared and served meals. I really feel like my son saw how lucky he truly is. It helped motivate him to be a better person and to make better choices.

I Chose Activities Carefully

While I wanted to keep my son busy to prevent him from being tempted to use again, I also knew that certain events, people, and parties could trigger substance use. I chose a lot of holiday events that were family friendly. Although my son is an adult, I knew we could enjoy these activities without being bombarded by alcohol or seeing people drinking.

I also had to be selective about parties and family gatherings. My son’s grandmother has been very judgmental about his challenges and not very loving. Although it was difficult for me to do, I made the decision to skip her Christmas dinner for my son’s sake. Instead, we stayed home and made a special meal just for us and watched movies.

Of course, my son also took the initiative to choose which events he felt comfortable attending. I was concerned about one particular party his friends were holding. I knew there would be drinking, but I didn’t want to tail him there and be an overbearing parent. He decided to attend but made the responsible choice to go with a sober friend. They held each other accountable.

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Together We Got Time Outdoors

My son is not the only one with struggles. I also have a hard time in the winter. As the weather gets colder and daylight hours shrink, I begin to experience a little bit of seasonal depression. Being outside, getting fresh air and whatever sunlight is available, and being active has always helped me in the past.

This year I enlisted my son to help me. I asked him to hold me accountable for managing my own mental health issues. He pushed me to get outside with him, to go for walks, and to go to the gym. We even went for some snowy hikes. Working together on our mental and physical health was a great bonding experience that benefitted both of us.

I Made Treatment an Option

I know my son didn’t want to have to go back to rehab, but we talked about it at the beginning of the holidays. I made sure he knew that it was a valid option and that we could afford it if he felt he needed more treatment or couldn’t make it through the end of the year without relapsing.

The hard work we put into staying sober and avoiding relapse meant that my child didn’t need this option. But it was always a possibility. Treatment helped him so much in the past, and he knows that he may need more in the future. The steps he took this year have strengthened his sobriety, and getting through the holidays without a relapse has increased his confidence and set him up for even more success next year.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Bay Area programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward lasting recovery.