The Halloween season wraps up on Thursday, which means our collective focus will shift to that most wonderful time of the year: The holidays.

For meal and party planners who relish the opportunity to gather loved ones around the house to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, it’s the time of year to which many of them look forward. But if there’s a recovering addict or alcoholic in their lives, especially a newly sober one, planning those holiday get-togethers can be a little stressful.

How, they might wonder, can they accommodate the sobriety needs of a recovering loved one without putting a damper on the festivities?

I get it; while loved ones want to be supportive throughout the year, they feel torn around the holidays, because they don’t want to put their addicted loved ones at risk, but neither do they want the rest of the family to sacrifice on the fun and frivolity. So where’s the balance?

First things first: Addiction doesn’t necessarily kick into overdrive during the holiday season — those afflicted are just as consumed by the obsession and compulsion to use and drink on June 1 as they are around the holidays. And if an addict or alcoholic is earnest about and active in their recovery, then they know enough to be aware of their own triggers, such as the presence of alcohol at holiday gatherings.

One of the oft-repeated mantras in recovery circles is that addicts and alcoholics aren’t responsible for their diseases, but they are responsible for their recovery. In other words, the presence of alcohol isn’t going to make newly sober addicts and alcoholics lose control. The key is communication: Family planners should let those in recovery know whether wine or booze will be consumed at a holiday event, and then ask them what they need in terms of support.

Giving recovering family members a heads up can help those individuals avoid discomfort. It’s up to them to set healthy boundaries to protect their sobriety, but a foundation laid in treatment or recovery has given them tools to ask for what they need. With your encouragement, they can vocalize those needs — such as self-care.

By developing relationships with other recovering addicts and alcoholics in support groups, those new to recovery have an outlet outside of immediate family in which to discuss their fears and frustrations. Family commitments during the holidays, however, can often interfere. That’s where family support can be crucial — don’t begrudge them time with their recovering support system. Despite the emphasis on faith and family during the holiday season, nothing should be more important — to the recovering addicts and alcoholics, or to their loved ones — than sustained recovery from addiction and alcoholism.

In other words, if they say they need or want to go to a meeting, don’t browbeat them into spending more time with Aunt Jane or Uncle Frank. Encourage them to take care of themselves. That support, in fact, is crucial throughout the year and not just during the holiday season. Family members can make a difference, but their support shouldn’t end on Jan. 2: If you want the addict or alcoholic in your life to commit to permanent change, then your support must follow them throughout.

And keep in mind: Relapse can and does occur, but it’s not the end of the world. It doesn’t mean that the addict or alcoholic has “failed” at recovery. Look at it this way: Relapse rates for addiction are roughly the same as they are for other chronic and progressive diseases such as hypertension and asthma: 50 and 70 percent for both, according to government statistics. The primary cause of relapse for all of these illnesses is when patients stop following prescribed medical treatment.

For recovering addicts and alcoholics, that means going to meetings, staying in touch with others in recovery and remaining vigilant, especially when they’re taking their first tentative steps into sobriety.

The most important thing to keep in mind? The perception of risk and strain is far, far greater than the reality of it. In other words, those in recovery and their loved ones spend a lot more time worrying about the risk the holidays might impose than they should, and that robs everyone of the joy the season is supposed to be about.

Common sense and kindness can go a long way, and communication is paramount. Talk to one another, say what you need and make plans together. The rest will take care of itself, and the holiday season will be a lot less stressful than you think.

Steve Wildsmith was an editor and writer for The Daily Times for nearly 17 years; a recovering addict, he now works in media and marketing for Cornerstone of Recovery, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Blount County. Contact him at

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