Planning for Christmas when there’s substance use in your life

Christmas can be a challenging and painful time when you are supporting a loved one who uses alcohol or other drugs. The perfect picture of the family around the dinner table that we are so used to seeing is unrealistic for most of us. The pressure of spending time together as a family can cause anxiety and fear in many of us.

When you desire to have your family together and everything to go to plan, you may also have some reservations or concerns. Maybe previous years haven’t gone to plan, or there are difficult relationships with your whole family. Or maybe you don’t feel your loved one can go a whole day without using substances. It can be painful having the success of Christmas being entirely reliant on someone who uses substances’ behaviour.

Remember, you still do have control over how your Christmas goes. It is still possible to have a lovely time that is not impacted by your loved one’s behaviour.

With the Covid pandemic still ongoing, there may be additional stresses on your plans for the festive period. Some initial considerations:

  • What are your expectations for Christmas?
  • Are they realistic?
  • What have previous years been like?
  • What are your ‘musts’ for your loved one to join you for Christmas?
  • What boundaries need to be communicated now?

At Scottish Families, we believe that setting boundaries at Christmas can assert your needs and make you feel more secure and respected. Boundaries help us develop trust, stability and respect. They are simply behaviours we see as acceptable, they are not punishments.

How to set boundaries at Christmas:

  • Choose boundaries that are important to you
  • Keep them concise and achievable
  • Discuss them with your loved one early on (at least a week before Christmas)
  • Try to avoid defending your decisions
  • Try to avoid bringing up old examples of when they have let you down
  • Have clear consequences if boundaries are not met and make sure that you both understand what they are
  • Be prepared for them opting out of your conditions and prepare a response that holds them responsible for their decisions and actions e.g. ‘I am sorry you have decided not to be involved, I will miss seeing you on Christmas Day’
  • Be firm with your boundaries and consequences, e.g. if you have asked them not to arrive on Christmas Day under the influence but they do, you must stick to the consequence you have told them will happen, even if it means asking them to leave
  • Don’t fall into the temptation to ‘let them off’ because it’s Christmas because this only leads to your boundaries being disrespected in the future
  • Discuss your boundaries with other family members and those who will also be present on the day so everyone is on the same page

If you are worried about Christmas, our support team is here for you if you need them.

Contact Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs on:

Freephone Helpline: 08080 10 10 11

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