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Thu, Oct. 17

What to do when your holiday guest is in recovery

Families all over the country are planning, decorating and cooking for their holiday gatherings. Whatever the faith tradition, sons and daughters are returning to their family nests, as are uncles, cousins and close friends. For many families, there may be one important change that should be addressed in a way that is not traditional. What does a host family do when one of the guests (particularly their child or spouse) is new in his/her recovery from addiction to alcohol and drugs? How do the traditions of cocktails to begin and wine at dinner mesh with the household hosting a person still fresh in a sober life?

According to Mike Kirkeeng, M.Ed., substance abuse therapist at West Yavapai Guidance Clinic, it is important for there to be a discussion. "Don't avoid the topic. Get it out in the open. Whatever the family's decision on the topic of having alcohol around at the holidays, there should be firm boundaries set on both sides. The family which is being supportive to the new person in recovery needs to define where the lines are for them. But the same goes for the person who is new in recovery. They need to use their tools and set their own boundaries."

There is plenty of stress involved for the person who is taking it day-by-day and learning to live without the drugs or alcohol so familiar, so recently. But there is additional stress during this holiday time of year. "A person in new recovery needs to continue attending support groups, whatever those are. Maybe it's NA or AA. But just don't take a break from your support systems during the holidays because things are busy. Look at it in just the opposite way, remembering that the holidays can actually be a trigger for use," Kirkeeng said.

Alcohol at the holidays may be a long-standing family tradition. But keep in mind that altering such traditions may be an easy way to support a family member making a difficult life change.

This is not a unique consideration, given that more than 7 million children in the United States lived with a parent who had an alcohol use disorder in the past year (SAMHSA, 2012 data). And, also from SAMHSA, in 2010, 2.6 million people aged 12 or older who needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem received specialty treatment at a specialty facility in the past year. But what may be unique this year is that the family comes right out and addresses it - puts the issue on the proverbial table - before the big feast day arrives. That way, as Kirkeeng recommends, boundaries will be set proactively on both sides of the issue making for a wonderful family function.

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