Holidays and Addiction: Family Info and Resources
When holidays roll around, uncomfortable emotions related to substance misuse often come to the forefront. Whether it’s you or another family member that is suffering from a substance use disorder, celebratory events such as Thanksgiving, Father’s Day, Hanukkah, Christmas, and more can bring up the pain, frustration, anger, shame, etc., that often accompany substance misuse in families. What’s more, these emotions—not to mention estrangements caused or worsened by substance misuse—can linger long after the individual with the disorder has sought treatment and entered recovery.
Bottom line: For some people, normally festive events can generate a host of potentially hurtful emotions related to substance misuse. For these individuals, holidays—particularly those centered on family members such as Father’s Day and Mother’s Day—can leave them feeling isolated, stressed, and maybe even envious of others who have seemingly idyllic family relationships.
If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. According to results from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 46.3 million people aged 12 and older (16.5% of the U.S. population) had a substance use disorder in the past year, including 24 million with a drug use disorder and 29.5 million with an alcohol use disorder.1 What’s more, in that same year, 94% of those individuals with a substance use disorder did not receive any treatment.2
So despite what you see on TV and your social feeds, substance misuse issues are likely far more common than you think. And chances are, holidays aren’t always as joyous for others as you’ve been led to believe.
But what can you do when family-centric holidays roll around? How can you lessen some of the stress and strain?
First, it’s often helpful understand the role that substance misuse plays in families. And second, it’s important to explore treatment and support for you and/or your loved ones. So let’s take a quick look at both of these topics.
SUDs and Families: Potential Characteristics
No two families are identical, and each family unit functions differently regardless of whether substance misuse is woven into its fabric. However, by understanding some of the effects of substance use disorders—which can impact everyone from parents and spouses/partners to children–it may help individuals to better understand their circumstances and take steps to mitigate issues.
Generally speaking, when substance misuse occurs, families display the following common features:3
- High levels of dysfunction and distress.
- Low levels of expressiveness, agreement, and cohesion.
- Lack of flexibility.
- An interconnection between dysfunction and substance misuse/relapse (aka reciprocal causality).
Additionally, when one or more family members have substance misuse issues, the following patterns of interaction may also occur.4
- Denial. Parents may deny their own substance misuse issues or those of their children.
- Negativism. The overall mood of the family is negative and downbeat, and family communication often takes the form of complaints, criticism, and other expressions of displeasure. Anything positive is downplayed, and the only way to get attention or enliven the situation is to create a crisis.
- Parental inconsistency. Parental figures who are inconsistent with the house rules, guidelines, and expectations create an atmosphere of chaos and confusion, as children attempt to navigate these ever-changing waters.
- Self-medication. A parent or child may use substances to deal with and/or numb the feelings associated with disorders such as depression and anxiety.
- Unrealistic parental expectations. This may consist of parental expectations set so high that they’re out of children’s reach or so low that children limit their efforts and actually fulfill their parents’ lackluster expectations.
- Miscarried expression of anger. Those who resent their emotionally deprived home may channel their repressed anger in the form of substance/alcohol use.
So if you’re experiencing these characteristics or patterns, you’re not alone. But perhaps more importantly, there’s help available for both you and your family members.
Getting Help for Yourself
If you have a substance misuse issue, the first step—admitting you need help and seeking it out—is often the most difficult. It can seem particularly intimidating to see the end goal down the road and recognize there are multiple steps needed to get there. However, recovery is well worth every step required to obtain it, and there are myriad individuals and treatment options that can help you along the way.
American Addiction Centers offers tons of content related to seeking treatment for yourself, including:
- How to Get Sober: A Guide to Sobriety
- How to Break an Addiction
- Rehab Admissions Process
- Substance Abuse Treatment Types and Therapy Programs
- Rehab Guide for Families
- Inpatient vs. Outpatient Rehab
- Insurance Coverage and Rehab
Additionally, you can take a deep dive into a host of substances to learn more about effects, signs and symptoms of use, withdrawal, detox, treatment and therapy types, and more. While AAC treats disorders related to myriad substances, here are a few that are commonly misused:
You can also reach out to AAC at to answer your questions about treatment, verify your insurance coverage, and discuss additional ways to pay for rehab.
How to Encourage Someone to Seek Treatment
If you’re trying to prompt a loved one to seek treatment, there are resources available to you as well.
- How to Encourage Someone to Go to Rehab
- How to Deal with an Addicted Spouse
- Drug and Alcohol Addiction Hotlines
- Family Rehab Programs
- How to Talk to an Alcoholic
- How to Talk to Someone About Addiction and Rehab Treatment
Since substance use disorders affect the entire family—not just the individual with the misuse issue—it’s often helpful to involve the entire family in the treatment process. Available through American Addiction Centers, family therapy involves family-level assessments, involvement, and approaches that treat the family unit as a whole.
If you or a loved one has additional questions—or you simply need someone to walk you through the treatment process—American Addiction Centers can help. While AAC offers several treatment facilities across the U.S., our admissions navigators at can not only answer questions for those seeking treatment but also provide information and options for those attempting to assist the person with the substance use disorder.
For families facing substance misuse issues, holidays may sometimes elicit added and perhaps uncomfortable emotions. But by facing addiction head on—by either seeking treatment for yourself or encouraging or supporting a loved one’s recovery efforts—you’ll likely be able to bring a bit more peace and positivity to these annual events.