I received several versions of this question in recent weeks:
In the parent portion of group last night, we discussed the upcoming holidays and how we were handling alcohol. I am hosting, XXXX is coming home, and I have decided to not serve alcohol. When I presented that to everyone else at my home last night, other family members’ reactions were not what I had wanted. If you could help me with a quick response,as I’m sure he won’t be the only one as I spread this word. I used the “support XXXX” and other things I have learned. The bottom line is one family member thinks that alcohol wasn’t XXXX’s big vice and therefore it shouldn’t be a “big deal”. Any words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated in me helping other family members understand.
While the last five to six weeks of the year are traditionally supposed to be joyful celebrations with family and friends, many people describe the holidays as “stressful” and “to be endured” or “survived.” Over the years, clients have told me that the holiday stress can be related to any or all of the following:
a) unresolved conflicts with family or friends
b) forced to see relatives that you otherwise would not see
c) the self-perception that one has not accomplished enough and the low self-esteem that accompanies that
d) being single (or recently broken up or divorced)
e) not having children
f) being separated from one’s children
g) financial stress
h) legal stress
i) being around alcohol or other substances at holiday gatherings
j) arguments over politics
The data on the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day show increased rates of depression, drunk driving, domestic violence, suicide attempts, and emergency room visits. All of those aforementioned problems can be caused or exacerbated by alcohol and/or other substances. I realize I’ve done my typical professorial reaction, where I provide a lot of background before addressing a simple question. Here it is in numbered points:
1) I define early recovery from alcohol and other drugs as the first two years (very early recovery is the first 90 days).
2) People are more likely to relapse in early recovery than in long term recovery.
3) Those in early recovery are often still unsure of themselves. They may not be good in advocating for themselves or setting boundaries. They may have a desire to appear unaffected or “normal.”
4) If someone had a problem with heroin or opioids (or cocaine or meth), they should avoid all other substances as well. I have known hundreds (it’s probably thousands, actually) of people who quit those harder drugs but then thought they could use alcohol or marijuana. Almost all of them found out that they could not. Some of them eventually abused those substances, while many others returned to their preferred heavier substances.
5) People in early recovery are often asked some variation of “Does that mean you can’t drink a glass or wine or have some champagne at New Year’s?” or “Does it bother you if I’m drinking?” Some of them are not equipped to answer those questions well, and they are particularly vulnerable to those questions when asked in front of a group of people.
6) If you want to be supportive, have alcohol (and other drug) free events during the first two years of your family member or friend’s recovery. They might tell you it’s fine and that they don’t want to take away from other’s holiday enjoyment. In the first two years, just go substance free. Don’t make it a vote or debate – just do it. If other family member’s or friends take issue with it, invite them to attend a family group education session or AA meeting or Al-Anon meeting or read this article. Those that are really difficult about it may potentially have a substance problem themselves. Having substance free holidays in early recovery is a wonderful gesture of support.
7) I encourage people in early recovery to avoid events where there is substance use. In long-term recovery, some people choose to continue to avoid situations with substances while others feel comfortable at sporting events, concerts, dances, work dinners, and parties. Everyone is different. I don’t mind when people around me drink, but I very much dislike being around most drunk people. I find that they are more likely to be rude, loud, rowdy, inarticulate, not funny and potentially chaotic. I avoid certain family members and events. I throw substance free functions and no one that means anything to me seems to mind. Decades ago, I was greatly touched by those that were supportive.