Addiction Doesn't Take a Holiday Break

Why getting help for a loved one really matters now

"It just wouldn't be Christmas without my wife."

"We'll get through the holidays first ... it's not so bad."

"He can't miss work and all of the holiday functions; that would not send a good message."

Over the years, Bob Poznanovich, executive director of National Outreach and Business Development Business Development for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, has heard all kinds of objections to sending a family member to treatment during the holidays. Poznanovich is also the co-author of It's Not Okay to Be a Cannibal: How to Keep Addiction from Eating Your Family Alive.

"It is amazing to me how many people believe that asking a family member to go to treatment during the holidays is somehow wrong, or cruel, or too disruptive," says Poznanovich. "Despite the research, stubborn myths about addiction prevail and are a major factor in keeping people sick by promoting the belief that this is a disease of choice or will."

He points out the five most common myths about addiction:

  • Addicts and alcoholics need to reach rock bottom before they can accept help.
  • Addiction is a willpower problem. If people put their mind to it, they can stop.
  • People don't need treatment; they can stop using if they are really motivated.
  • People must want treatment in order for it to be effective.
  • Treatment doesn't work.

And during this time of year, Poznanovich often encounters another dangerous myth: that now is not a good time to seek treatment. However, the truth is that the holiday season may be the best time of the year for people to get healthy and reclaim their lives from addiction.

"Homes that play host to active addiction are not filled with joy and happiness during the holidays; they are decked with dysfunction, stress, fear, and shame," said Poznanovich. "Families who are at the eye of the storm—living in the midst of active addiction—have a very difficult time knowing what to do. Too often, they resort to enabling behaviors that result in keeping everyone sick."

Especially during the holidays, other factors come into play that can compound problems associated with substance abuse and addiction. For many, this season can be one of great joy and happiness. For others, though, the holidays bring high stress or feelings of loss or depression. Sometimes family gatherings can exacerbate difficult or unhealthy relationships and cause additional anxiety. Intense end-of-the-year workplace demands combined with must-show holiday parties can place additional pressure to drink or use. There are also many opportunities to celebrate in excess, which can create tremendous challenges for those struggling with addiction and trying to keep it together. On top of all this, the family struggles valiantly to present the image that all is well.

For families besieged by addiction, the greatest gift they could give their addicted loved one—and themselves—is the gift of recovery.

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