When someone you care about is dealing with addiction, it can be emotionally taxing, no matter the season. Combine this with holiday chaos and the stress of visiting family and having a loved one with a substance use disorder can feel almost unbearable.
But this is supposed to be a joyful time of year. Who wants to spend Christmas in rehab?
“It’s not really like I was present for the holidays during my addiction,” says Bracebridge Hall employee Dawn, who has now enjoyed many holidays in recovery. “Sure, I was there, but I wasn’t present, I wasn’t enjoying time with my family. It’s harder for our families to see us high or drunk than it is to see us taking care of ourselves.”
“It’s not easy to be away from our loved ones, but it’s one holiday to sacrifice for the benefit of having many more in recovery; many more to be present in the moment and actually enjoy them.”
Recovery Centers of America’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Deni has a few tips if you’re faced with trying to get a loved one into addiction treatment this holiday season. Keep in mind: One of the most critical aspects is continual family support.
1. Don’t be afraid to speak up
You can voice your concerns without being confrontational. Ease into a conversation by saying something like:
“I noticed you’re having trouble with things that usually come easy to you. Is there something going on?”
The more you can err on the side of not seeming like you’re making a judgment – rather, that you’re just concerned – the better. If the person denies there’s a problem, come back with the facts you’ve noticed, such as they’ve been missing work lately or nodding off during dinner.
2. Know the signs of addiction
Many people struggling with addiction live in secret – but there are telling signs that someone may be abusing drugs or alcohol. Usually, you’re seeing a behavior you didn’t use to see … and it’s worrisome. It could be that the person stops showing up to work or social engagements and is isolating. Maybe you find they’re being more secretive. They might start spending time with a different set of friends, especially in the case of teenagers.
Here’s what else to keep an eye out for:
Someone struggling with a heroin or opioid addiction might often “nod off” – drop their head and start to fall asleep while they’re sitting there. Their pupils will appear smaller and frequent scratching is common. They may also lose a lot of weight.
- Alcohol abuse
A person with alcohol use disorder may have puffy skin from retaining water and a red nose from enlarged blood vessels. You may seem them stumble or smell alcohol on their breath. They might be irritable or experience tremors or shaky hands if they’ve gone too long without a drink.
Cocaine and amphetamines cause people to appear hyperactive, talk rapidly, and express ideas of grandeur. They have a decreased need for sleep and may experience a major weight loss.
3. Stage an intervention with a medical professional
If you feel like you need some extra help, you can have a medical professional intervene. At RCA, we offer complimentary interventionists to help you plan an intervention with close friends or family and the person you’re worried about. There’s strength in numbers: if one person thinks they have a problem, that’s one thing; but if three do and a doctor, it’s harder for them to deny it.
An interventionist will not only serve as a mediator to make sure you calmly and effectively communicate your support and concern for your loved one, but also help you come up with a treatment plan. Be aware that there’s a window where people see it as a problem, and that window closes quickly.
For example, if you stage the intervention on a Thursday, and a person agrees at that time to check into rehab on Monday, there’s a good chance they’ll change their mind by then. Ideally, the goal is to enter them into a rehab program immediately after the intervention.
It’s arguably easier to stage an intervention or convince someone they have a problem after a catastrophic event — say, they lost their job because of using, or got into an accident. But what about high-functioning users, who still excel at work and meet their responsibilities, despite their dependence on drugs or alcohol? Try focusing on how addiction is impacting their physical or mental health or social or family obligations. Focus on the problems caused by drugs or alcohol and have that discussion with the person.
The bottom line is that the holidays can be a great time to let your loved one know you care about them and are there to help them quit their addiction. I hear families say they are afraid to ask their loved ones if they’re using drugs or have an alcohol problem. What I say is, think of what could happen if you don’t ask.