The holidays are a time for connecting with friends and family, celebrating a completed year, and enjoying some of our favorite traditions. It’s also a time of dealing with enormous amounts of stress. While some people partake of substances recreationally to celebrate, others use or drink to cope with elevated stress… and some of them are friends and family who are battling full-fledged addiction. For them, this time of the year means an even deeper dive into those unhealthy habits.
You may want to help them, but you are not sure how.
Here are some steps you can take in approaching someone about addiction during the holidays:
Do Your Homework
Before you approach that person in your life who is struggling with addiction, research the best steps to take. There are plenty of valuable online sources of information on what to do, how to keep the conversation flowing, and how to maximize your time with those you care about who are struggling with addiction.
In addition, you need to have a plan in place before approaching your friend or loved one For example, it would be beneficial to find out whether they have Insurance for addiction treatment. If not, is paying privately an option? Can they take family and medical leave from work for detox? Which treatment centers would be best for them?
You want to be able to act quickly should the opportunity arise… because if not, the door may close while you are figuring out the options.
Talk with Addiction Counselors and Those in Recovery from Addiction
You can benefit greatly from the guidance of qualified addiction counselors and people who have won the war with addiction. They understand as no one else can what your friend or loved one is going through. You can not only learn from their experience, but it can also help make your efforts more effective, especially when it comes to getting around common roadblocks encountered when approaching someone about addiction during the holidays.
Make a List of Objections that are Likely to Arise
It doesn’t matter who you are about to talk with or what issues with addiction they may have, they will have excuses, reasons, and justifications for not seeking treatment. Some of these will be typical, some will be valid points, some will be just flat-out lies, and some may make you upset.
Imagine if you are talking to your brother about his battles with addiction and he tells you the reason he uses drugs is because you don’t give him enough money for him to live a better life. That seems like a outlandish excuse, and it is, but it has actually been used by some individuals as a reason they use or drink. Getting upset or arguing about their reasoning is not going to get you anywhere. Instead, try writing down potential objections you think the person will have and devise ways to combat them – without being combative.
Remember, you may not be arguing about what you think you are are arguing about. If the person struggling is not receptive, they may pull out a convenient excuse instead of revealing the real reason they are reluctant. It may be they are not ready to get clean and sober. They may fear withdrawal symptoms. Or they may just simply be overwhelmed at the thought of trying to overcome addiction during the holidays.
Collaboration vs. Confrontation
We’ve all seen many “interventions” on television and movies, and they may have formed the basis of our perceptions on how to approach people with addiction. The reality, however, can be quite different.
For starters, not too many people will sit and listen intently to all the ways they have disappointed people in their lives. In fact, they may shut down entirely or even leave. Obviously, this is not what you want. Instead, try to focus on talking to them about their addiction and letting them know you are there to help whenever they are ready.
The feeling of being judged can be another reason an intervention may not be the best way to go. However, a judgmental attitude can also come through in singular interactions as well. Therefore, it is best to check judgment at the door.
Even if the judgment is not coming from you, understand that people struggling with addiction may judge themselves. Although we may be well-meaning, our statements can come across to the person on the receiving end as judgmental because they feel that way inside – and, of course, the natural response to that is defensiveness. The moment someone gets defensive, they are no longer responsive to what you are saying. Tread with care.
Try Approaching One-on-One First
A one-on-one approach may be better than a group meeting. This is especially important during the holidays, as people may not want to burden others with their substance abuse problems and therefore keep it hidden. Some families will be reuniting for the first time since the pandemic this holiday season and someone battling an addiction would probably like to keep that issue private if possible.
Encourage Immediate Action
One excuse you are certainly going to hear during the holiday season is that the person is stressed right now, but as soon as the New Year comes, they will get clean. They tell themselves that as much as they tell you. The truth is that, yes, addiction during the holidays is not any more fun than it is throughout the year. In fact, this may be the best time to get help because the world is focused on other things. They may also have time off from work that can be devoted to addiction recovery efforts. This is where having your response ready is also important and can make a significant impact on the outcome of the conversation. Stress to them the importance of starting now and not waiting until next year.
Keep Reminding Them That You are Here for Them
One of the reasons we avoid tackling addiction is because substances are used as a crutch. Think of someone who is in pain and is addicted to painkillers. You can say anything you want to them and your points may be valid. However, that doesn’t mean they will decide to change. Their fear may be that, without the meds, they will be in pain and that’s a legitimate reason to keep using. This is where you must work with them to find an alternative. Maybe there is a small procedure, an exercise, a non-addictive medication, or a treatment such as biofeedback that can alleviate the pain. If there’s a way for them to get better without having to use addictive substances, you have a chance to help them. Make sure they know that you are there to help them as well.
Addiction can easily worsen during the holidays. You must be patient with those who struggle, but also prepared for their excuses. Approach them with a listening ear as well as alternatives, solutions, and the help they so desperately need. Show them you are ready to partner with them to overcome addiction… not just for the holidays, but for good.
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