Christmas is supposed to be a time of happiness and joy, but the traditional season of goodwill can also be challenging for a lot of people. For those struggling with bereavement, loneliness and a wide range of other situations, the Christmas period can be very difficult.

People who are struggling with an addiction or are in recovery face a unique set of challenges – as do their family, friends and loved ones. Christmas is also traditionally a time of over-indulgence. Alcohol plays a big part in celebrations in many households, which can result in a lot of triggers and temptations.

At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the person involved to maintain their recovery. But there are a number of things you can do to help them. Setting everyone at ease is part of being a good host after all, and helping your guests to sidestep those traps and temptations can also help to avoid difficult situations before they arise.


Don’t ‘Cancel’ Christmas!

If you have a relative or loved one struggling with substance misuse or addiction issues, you might be tempted to avoid inviting the person to your home over Christmas. There could be a number of reasons for this, including avoiding potential disruption. This could be a valid issue if you think the person might become aggressive, for example, especially around children. This is generally more likely to be the case when people are still drinking or using drugs, however, rather than when they are in recovery.

If you are worried about what other people – including other family members might think – it’s worth putting yourself in the place of the person in recovery for a moment. While much of the stigma around addiction has been broken down over recent years it can still remain, particularly (though not always) in older generations. Adding to that stigma or excluding the person in recovery can be a huge blow, adding to their sense of isolation, damaging their self-worth and affecting their mental health. Ultimately, it can also impact their efforts to recover, potentially triggering a relapse.

Attempting to tackle an existing drink or drug addiction is always a positive and brave step. It is also very difficult and more likely to be successful if the person has the help and support of their loved ones.


Remove Triggers and Temptations

One of the best things you can do when hosting a recovering addict at Christmas is to remove temptation from them. Most households do not openly take drugs over the festive period, but many do drink alcohol – and often to excess.

Stock up on soft drinks and it should go without saying that you should never offer a recovering alcoholic an alcoholic drink. An attitude of ‘just one won’t hurt’ or a family tradition of raising a toast or starting the day with a breakfast tipple could have very bad consequences for a recovering addict, potentially leading to a serious relapse and setting them back to square one.

One solution would be to host a ‘dry’ Christmas with no alcohol involved at all. If you take this route, it’s probably best to inform other guests in advance so no one brings a bottle or demands a glass of wine with their dinner. If this is not something you feel you can do, you should still try to minimise their exposure to alcohol.


Don’t Force the Issue

On the other hand, while you should not exclude the person from celebrations, you should respect their wishes if they genuinely do not want to attend a big party or family get-together. This might depend on a number of factors, including the stage of recovery the person is at. In the very early stages, they are more likely to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope.

A good compromise might be for the person in recovery to leave early or put in a shorter-than-usual appearance. If they live in the home with you, this might simply mean going to bed or their own space early


Create a Safe Space

It can also help to prepare a ‘safe space’ where the person can retreat to if things get too much. This certainly applies if you are serving alcohol but it can also be beneficial in other circumstances. Christmas Day and other holiday gatherings can be quite stressful at the best of times, depending on the mix of people and family dynamics. Dealing with this kind of stress can be quite triggering to a person in recovery so a quiet place to go and collect their thoughts can be very valuable.


Don’t Make Everything About Their Recovery

It can be difficult to not make a big deal out of your loved one’s recovery. It is one thing to let them know that you are proud of them and that they have your support, but they probably don’t want reminding about their addiction every ten minutes or so. Putting them – and their recovery – at the centre of attention can make them feel uncomfortable, as can constantly pointing out everything you are doing to help.

While hosting a recovering addict can change the dynamics of your gathering, making things feel as normal as possible can be beneficial for everyone involved.


Have a Contingency Plan

It can help to talk openly with your loved one in advance to find out what they want to do and what accommodations you can make to help them. While they might feel strong enough to attend the party or gathering before it happens however, it could turn out to be more difficult than they expected once it is actually underway. They might need to take time out, get in touch with a mentor or sponsor or to leave if things do get too much.

And remember that, while you can certainly help, it is not your responsibility to ensure that your loved one remains sober. That is ultimately down to them, but you can offer love and support and provide a setting that can help them to maintain their recovery through what can be a very challenging period.


John Gillen - Author - Last updated: December 9, 2022

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.