Supporting a Friend’s Sobriety During the Holidays

Contributor: W. Travis Stewart, LPC, NCC writer for Addiction Hope

Handsome man outdoorsMost of us have friends or family members who are in recovery from an addiction. If you can’t think of anyone in your life in this situation you probably aren’t paying attention. The National Institutes of Health reports that nearly one in 10 Americans over the age of 12 can be classified with substance abuse or dependence [1].

That’s something like 23.5 million people. Of that group a surprisingly small number actually participate in treatment or support. One estimate puts the number of individuals who receive treatment at a low 11% of those affected [2] and in January, 2015 Alcoholics Anonymous reported its membership at 1,283,704 people.

So, if you have a friend affected by alcohol or substance addiction and he or she is actively pursuing recovery then that person is in rare company and fully deserves your support and encouragement to remain sober.

Sobriety can be particularly difficult during the holiday season. This is true because of many reasons, including:

  • The temptation to relax and celebrate during the holidays
  • Frequency of parties and festivities where alcohol is served
  • The culturally acceptance of indulgence through the months of November and December
  • More free time during vacation

In addition to the increased availability and opportunity to use alcohol or drugs there is often increased stress and tension during the holiday season. This can result from:

  • Being busy with year-end projects at work
  • Travel
  • Financial stress
  • Spending more time with extended family which, for many people, can be difficult
  • Reliving old memories, some of which may be painful
  • Feeling grief for friends and family who have died and are not with family
  • The holiday “rush” of going to parties, buying gifts, etc.

Young couple looking upAll of these factors, and others, can contribute to increased vulnerability and higher urges to use. So, how can you, as a friend or family member, support someone you know who is in recovery? This is not an exhaustive list but consider the following:

  • Help them plan their holiday schedule
  • Encourage them to find an AA meeting wherever they are traveling
  • Create new holiday traditions
  • Help them say no to pressure
  • Ask them to talk about how good it feels to be sober
  • Plan activities that don’t involve substances
  • Offer to spend time with them if they need to get away from family
  • Ask them to check in when they are on the road
  • Ask them what makes them vulnerable to using/abusing
  • Ask them what helps when they experience cravings
  • Anticipate struggle and don’t be afraid of it
  • Go to Al-Anon (visit
  • Don’t drink in front of them
  • Don’t have alcohol at parties

Let’s look at a few other ideas more closely

Be curious and ask questions

“Some of my dearest friends are the ones who have just come out and asked what I need from them (if anything), in relation to my sobriety” writes Caroline Burau in her helpful article on supporting friends in recovery [3]. This doesn’t mean you have permission to know every detail of their life or addiction. It does mean that you respectfully talk about their experience and ask questions like:

  • When do you think you will be most vulnerable to using over the next few weeks?
  • What should I say if I see you making choices that don’t appear to line up with recovery?
  • How would you like me to respond to you if you have a slip?

Let them know they reach out to you

Addiction Hope Celebrate Recovery & Alcoholism: How it differs from Alcoholics AnonymousSome friends and family members may appreciate being able to contact you if they find themselves in a difficult situation. It can be helpful to text one another or make a quick call before entering into a challenging party or event. They may even ask you to call if they need an excuse to leave. Talk ahead of time about their preferences and what they need from you.

Let them own it

You can’t do recovery for someone else. You can’t protect them from poor choices. Don’t make yourself your friend’s babysitter. If you carry too much of the responsibility it will likely create tension in your relationship and undermine the work of recovery. If they struggle it is not an indictment of your friendship or support. You must support with an open hand, not a tight grip.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What has been your experience with supporting someone in recovery? What changes did you make in how you supported your friend during the holidays?



Travis StewartAbout the author: Travis Stewart earned a Master of Arts in Counseling (2001) and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (2003), both from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, MO. Travis is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Missouri and a writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 12, 2015
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