How to Navigate the Holidays When a Family Member Has a Substance Use Disorder

The holidays are often portrayed as joyous occasions where families come together and make new memories. However, the reality is that the holiday season can be a challenging and upsetting time for many families, especially those who have loved ones that struggle with substance use. Continue reading to learn about some tips on navigating the holidays when a family member has a substance use disorder.


A substance use disorder (SUD) is a complex health condition that can mentally, physically and emotionally affect someone. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states that a substance use disorder occurs when the repeated usage of alcohol and or drugs causes clinically significant impairment, including health problems, disability and failure to meet obligations at work, school or home. A substance use disorder is severe, but there is hope — this illness is treatable, and you can recover from it.


Whether your loved one is sober or struggling with sobriety, it’s always important to think of them first when planning your get-together, dinner or party. You want to make sure they feel comfortable and feel it’s a safe space to attend. Allow them to bring a guest or consider having a trusted friend or family member or someone supportive at the party to be with them. If they struggle with alcohol use, make sure there are non-alcoholic beverages available for them, or consider altogether ditching alcohol from the event when they are there. 


Holidays can be a difficult time for those struggling with substance use. It may bring up emotions of sadness or enhance their triggers. It’s essential to stay connected with your loved one, especially during this time. While checking in, be open with your loved one about if they will be comfortable attending gatherings and what you might be able to do to make them more comfortable and help them feel less isolated. Consider suggesting that they create a schedule for you both to check in together. Encourage them to check in with other trusted friends and family members, and if they have one, their peer recovery coach to keep them accountable. There are many types of AA meetings to help with the difficulty of the holidays. You may want to consider suggesting this an option if they currently do not attend, as they can interact with others struggling with the same challenges. 


If your loved one is newly sober or working on their sobriety, it may be best for them to avoid holiday gatherings as it may create triggers that will lead to negative outcomes. And if they attend, there is a possibility that they may feel uncomfortable while at the party, and they may leave early. Having your support about going early or offering to ride with them or drive them home can make them feel supported about their decision. And again, do not be offended or worried if they consider skipping the event if its risk is too significant. There is no harm for them to rethink their holiday obligations to maintain their sobriety. 


Although it is recommended and essential to check in on your loved ones struggling with substance use or sobriety, it is also vital not to overbear them. If you continually push and contact them, you may make them feel a lack of trust, potentially pushing them away. Instead, find a happy medium that works for both of you.

On the other hand, if your loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder and has not attempted sobriety, it may be time that you and other trusted friends and family step in and try to get them help. By coming up with a plan and making lists of places they can get help, and encouraging them to do so, you can support your loved one and allow them to feel a sense of community by taking on this challenging yet rewarding time in their life.

At Seneca Health Services, we offer crisis assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. Our crisis services help assist and support individuals, arrange and coordinate treatment services to ensure basic needs are met, encourage the use of natural supports and provide linkage to a variety of community support systems. Our highly trained behavioral health professionals are passionate about helping people find the life they want to live, and crisis services may be a useful option for your loved one during the holidays.

Couples that are on good terms might negotiate issues surrounding the divorce without the need for a lawyer. However, if there have been cases of neglect, abuse, cheating, or any other irreconcilable difference, one party may be reluctant to discuss the divorce. If you find yourself in such a situation and can’t have a candid conversation with your partner, you should instantly hire a family lawyer to protect your rights.


If your loved one cannot stop thinking about alcohol or drugs or has experienced a relapse, they should contact one of our trained behavioral health professionals. Reaching out is hard, but we want you to know that our team of psychiatrists, social workers, therapists, nurses, case managers and other professional staff at Seneca Health Services are here to help, and your loved one is in good hands. We personalize our patients’ care so that they receive adequate treatment. 

If your loved one needs residential treatment over the holidays, our medical staff also serves our residential treatment programs, Crosswinds Center (a short-term residential treatment program located in Maxwelton) and Recovery Ridge (a substance use residential treatment program located in Summersville).

If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact the Seneca office nearest you or use the link provided here.

Greenbrier County, West Virginia: (304) 497-0500

Nicholas County, West Virginia: (304) 872-2659

Pocahontas County, West Virginia: (304) 799-6865

Webster County, West Virginia: (304) 847-5425