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Make Your Holidays Happier: Establish Boundaries with Your Addicted Child


Well, here we are again.  No sooner have we unwrapped our last miniature Halloween Snickers than we are being bombarded with Christmas.  Sometimes I think it would be nice if the holidays came around like the Olympics every 2 or 4 years; or if we could skip them altogether and just hang a sign on our front door saying “Gone fishin’… please come back after January 3rd.”

But, since none of those options are really doable, we are confronted with yet another holiday season where we hope that all things — people, food and presents — will be perfect.  After all, that’s what the ads promise.

Hmm… a lovely thought, but what if you’re anxious about spending the holiday with the drug-addicted child  in your life?

During this time of year, many of my clients look for guidance on how to establish and secure their boundaries with their addicted child.  They want to include him or her in the family festivities and are pulled toward family unity but at the same time anxious about the unpredictable behavior. They have witnessed other occasions, like birthdays, anniversaries or just plain Sunday night dinner, when the drug-addicted child arrived intoxicated or just sported a really poor and dower attitude and all hell broke loose due to anything or nothing.  Since the past is a teacher, we can’t help but be apprehensive — yet hopeful that maybe this time will be different.

To ease your mind, establish some simple, respectful boundaries with your drug-addicted child. Here are some suggestions:

1. Arrive at the designated time, being well-groomed and dressed appropriately.
2. Be clean and sober is paramount to participation.  If you smell alcohol on their breath or he or she acts intoxicated or high you will not let him in, or if they live there, you will ask them to stay away from the festivities until the event is over.
3. A cheerful and kind demeanor is also an entry ticket as anger or a “woe is me”, chin-on-the-buttons attitude is unwelcome.

Pick boundaries that are important to you and that your child MUST adhere to  or he or she will not be welcome to participate in the family festivities.  Keep the boundaries simple, doable, short and to the point. There is no need to defend yourself regarding your decisions and if you don’t engage and stay neutral you will be perceived as having a plan that is thought out and smacks of self-respect.

Don’t let your boundaries be built on quicksand where you acquiesce because your child spins an excuse as to why they have not lived up to his or her end of the bargain and resorts to tugging at your heartstrings or by yelling and screaming.  Please don’t fall prey to thinking, “Oh well, I’ll overlook this because it’s the holidays.” Or “It’s the holidays and I just don’t want to be unhappy or make my loved one unhappy.”

If your child doesn’t like your holiday rules, be committed to a response like, “That makes me sad that you won’t be joining us, but that’s your choice.”  He now has to shoulder all the responsibility for his decision even though he may try to blame you.  As disheartening as that outcome may be, you are taking care of yourself and the other members of your family and in the long run you will have earned a new found respect not only from the addicted child, but family members and friends as well.  After all, there is a bigger picture here, than just appeasing one person in a larger family unit.

Holidays can be wonderful and fun.  But they are certainly more enjoyable if there is warmth and love, coupled with respect and dignity toward one another.  After all, it should be a time of reflection on the abundance of gratitude that the year has brought.  Hopefully your addicted child can participate with family and friends as he would like and as you would like.  However, it’s ok if it doesn’t happen this year for this particular holiday.  After all, there is myriad of other occasions to celebrate from Valentine’s Day to Easter that are right around the corner.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about improving your relationship with your addicted child, explore Carole Bennett’s new book Reclaim Your Life.  Do you have a child struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction?  Visit Time To Get Help our new resource and online community for parents offering expert guidance, support and answers.

6 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Anna
    Anna / February 8, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    This is very helpful next year am going to have a much healthier and more joyful Christmas Thank you, great website.

  2. Patti Herndon / January 28, 2011 at 1:17 am

    I enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for these good suggestions to utilize! And adding that direct, but also empathy-driven dialoguing, (and coming to mutually-stated agreement with our addicted child, whenever possible), encourages an addiction-challenged son/daughter to participate as an accountable, willing partner. This will go a long way in helping to create a peace-filled, satisfying family gathering, of any kind. Thanks “addiction help” for reminding us all that our spirit of engagement as parents has big impact on our addicted son or daughters reactions-thus stress levels all around. We deal with so much as parents that it’s easy to overlook the importance of how we can influence our addicted son/daughters’ receptiveness to healthy, good spirited socializing…Wishing us all peace-filled interactions and family gatherings.

    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination

  3. Avatar of addiction help
    addiction help / January 19, 2011 at 6:47 am

    Thanks for the wonderful post Carole,

    Setting boundaries for the addicted child is indeed simple but when done, it goes a long way. However, as Barry has pointed out, it is always easier said than done. So patience and understanding is still an important value that parents and family members should keep. I think it is also important to let down the apprehensive stance because it might just fuel up the wrong reaction from the addicted member.

  4. Cathy / January 1, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    Enjoyed reading your post, Carole. You have many good points. As a parent when I did not set boundaries, I felt I set myself up for anger and resentment. I continued to have expectations, and in the midst of addiction, rarely are they met. Learning to let go of those expectations is difficult, but for me became so important.

  5. Dad 4 Truth / December 16, 2010 at 4:15 pm


    Thanks for sharing your insights.

    I have just ordered your book, it received great reviews on amazon.

    In your suggestion # 3 you recommended gift cards for the addict living at home. My experience indicates that this might be acceptable only if the family member goes with their addicted child to monitor the purchases, otherwise, the gift card will likely end up with his drug dealer.

    It is unfortunate that we parents do not learn to grieve the loss of our child early instead of later. It is the grieving process that begins our own recovery. It sets us free to experience the peace and serenity possible through working our own twelve step program.

  6. Barry Lessin, M.Ed., CACD / December 16, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Carole’s focus on establishing boundaries is even more important during the holiday season, with all of he extra demands on ourselves and our families. It’s hard enough to do with an addict child during less demanding times, so reviewing them here is extra timely.

    Her suggestion about looking at the larger picture, that there are many other occasions down the road to celebrate, reflects an aspect of addiction and recovery that my clients often have a hard time grasping: Addiction and recovery are a PROCESS that unfolds over time, with progress and relapse, ebbs and flows.

    Getting better at pacing ourselves with the expected ups and downs so we don’t lose sight of the larger picture of our lives is the idea. It’s easier said than done, for sure, but once we get the hang of it, we don’t feel as overwhelmed all the time.

    Happy Holidays!!

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