How to Spot Addiction During Your Family Holiday Festivities

Though most people daydream of mashed potatoes and heartwarming gifts around the holiday season, others may be more focused on addiction and substance abuse problems in their families.

With holidays upon us, you may be wondering about how you can spot the signs of addiction in one or many of your family members during festive gatherings.

holiday party

The holidays can be a triggering time of year for anyone who has ever suffered (or who is still currently suffering) from a substance use disorder (SUD). If you are someone who is worried that one or many of your family members may be suffering from a substance use disorder or substance abuse problems, we’ll break down what to look for to further confirm your suspicion.

Remember, only a physician can diagnose a substance use disorder, but if you suspect that your loved one is suffering from addiction, there are still various things you can do to help.

What is a Substance Use Disorder?

First, let’s discuss what a substance use disorder is — and what it isn’t. A substance use disorder, also commonly called an addiction, is a treatable brain disorder that occurs when someone cannot stop using drugs or alcohol despite consequences of substance abuse. These consequences may include things such as health problems, disabilities, failure to meet necessary responsibilities at work, school, home, or more.1

Substance use disorders do not discriminate against anyone, and can happen to people from all types of families across the world. SUDs can affect people from all walks of life, all socio-economic backgrounds, and more.1

Signs Your Loved One is Suffering from an SUD on Christmas

If you’re having Christmas dinner with any of your family members and are wondering whether their behavior may indicate the presence of an active drug or alcohol addiction, check out some of the signs below. Use the following signs below to spot addictive behaviors and determine whether your loved one may be in the midst of an active addiction. Remain aware that these signs are not always foolproof indications that your loved one is currently using drugs or alcohol or is suffering from addiction. However, these signs may be present in someone who is unhealthily using drugs or alcohol during the holiday season.

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They Leave or are Absent Often

Does your loved one leave the dinner table or holiday events often? If so, this may be a sign that they are struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. 

They Simply Seem “Off”

If your loved one seems different at your family dinner or family gathering, this may be a sign that they are currently using drugs or alcohol. If someone is currently under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they may have trouble speaking, may behave out of character, or might exhibit certain personality changes.2

They Start Family Conflicts

Combative behavior can be another sign that someone is currently under the influence of drugs or alcohol.2 If your loved one is especially combative with your family and friends at any of your holiday gatherings, it may be a sign that they are struggling with a more serious addiction.

They Struggle with Coping with Stress over the Holidays

Feeling overwhelmed during the holiday season is normal. However, if your loved one gets overwhelmed during the holidays and struggles coping with stress during the holiday season, it may cause them to turn to drugs or alcohol to alleviate this stress. Depending on the extent of their substance use (or abuse), their coping skill may develop into a full-blown substance use disorder. So, if your loved one lets you know that they’ve been turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with the stress of the holidays, it may be a sign that they’re struggling with addiction.

Spending Time With Family Overwhelms Them

For some people, spending time with family members over the holiday season is challenging. Further, for people who have strained relationships with their loved ones or who have suffered trauma as a result of their loved ones, the holiday season (and all of the resulting holiday parties with family members) may be extremely triggering for them.

If your loved one seems visibly stressed and turns to drugs or alcohol to cope with their evident discomfort, they may be struggling with drug or alcohol abuse.

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Other Signs Your Loved One is Suffering from an SUD

If you are wondering whether your loved one may be suffering from a substance use disorder, make sure to look out for some key indications.

According to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, some signs of drug addiction may include:2

  • Unexplained personality changes.
  • Mood swings and angry outbursts.
  • Anxiety and paranoia.
  • Drops in attendance at family gatherings, school, and work..
  • Engaging in secretive behaviors.
  • Sudden changes in friend groups.
  • Bloodshot eyes.
  • Abnormally large or small pupils.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Changes in sleep.
  • Unusual smells (on breath, body, or clothing).
  • Impaired coordination.
  • Legal trouble.
  • Risk taking.

What to do if You’re Worried that Your Loved One is Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

Though addiction cannot be cured, it is a treatable illness that, with the right help, is a disorder that your loved one can recover from. However, long-term recovery from substance abuse issues is possible with the correct and fitting resources.

Inpatient addiction treatment and outpatient substance abuse treatment programs, for example, is a great option for those who are struggling with substance use disorders and addictions to drugs or alcohol. 

So, if you believe your loved one may be suffering from a substance use disorder, you may want to calmly approach them and voice your concerns. Remember to come from a place of love and care, and try not to make this person feel like you are angry or upset with them. 

Also remember to:

  • Avoid assumptions. Instead of assuming someone is suffering from addiction, be curious of what may be going on in your loved one’s life and explain why you are concerned. Let curiosity guide your conversation, not assumption.
  • Express concern, not anger. Approaching your partner with anger or blame will only make them want to shut down or become angry themselves. Instead of becoming angry or placing blame or shame on your loved one, approach them from a place of love and concern. Let them know why you are suspecting that they are struggling with drug or alcohol abuse and why you are concerned that their substance use is unhealthy. 
  • Be ready to offer help. Be ready to offer help to your loved one if they are struggling with addiction or another mental health condition. You can be prepared to offer help by gathering a list of resources for your loved one, and even suggesting a specific treatment center for them to go to. Research indicates that having treatment readily available when someone confronts their addiction may lead to better treatment outcomes. 

References:

  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disorders#:~:text=Substance%20use%20disorders%20occur%20when,work%2C%20school%2C%20or%20home
  2. https://www.tn.gov/behavioral-health/substance-abuse-services/treatment—recovery/treatment—recovery/prescription-for-success/warning-signs-of-drug-abuse.html