Recognizing Addiction in Loved Ones During the Holidays

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Christmas is almost here, and you’re all geared up. The halls are bedecked in garlands of pine and holly, the tree is just perfect, and the stockings are already hanging from the fireplace mantel. The presents are all wrapped and safely hidden away, and the carefully-prepared, lavish Christmas dinner is tucked away in fridge and freezer. And the best part of it all? Zach is home from college – after long months of being away at school, he’s back to be with the family and celebrate the holiday season together. Your home and heart are full, and things couldn’t be more perfect.

But then you start noticing small details, and they plant a seed of worry in your heart.  The red eyes, the secretiveness, the short temper and irritability, the sudden and unexplained disappearances. Zach locks the door to his room every time he leaves – he never used to do that. And he asked you for hard cash this year instead of any gifts … Something is going on, but you’re not sure what. You’re worried. You’re scared.

Home for the Holidays – An Opportunity

Holiday season is when loved ones are home from college, university, and work, and we can begin to pick up on habits and nuances that we may have missed in their absence. Struggles that were easily concealed while they were away may begin to make their presence known, and we start to see a picture that we never noticed before. Unfortunately, sometimes the details we notice may indicate an underlying substance abuse problem that developed while they were away from home.

Knowing how to recognize the signs of addiction in loved ones is crucial during this period of time, as it can lead to preventative measures that can save lives in the long run. Here, Avenues Recovery lists ten of the most common symptoms of addiction - so you can know what to look out for, and act as soon as something seems wrong.

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1. Changes in Behavior

One of the first indicators of an addiction is a noticeable change in behavior. During the holidays, pay attention to any abrupt shifts in your loved one’s behavior. This would include increased irritability, mood swings, or unexplained aggression. Alternatively, they made act unusually secretive, or isolate themselves from others.

2. Physical Signs

Substance abuse very often manifests itself physically. Watch for common signs like bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, sudden weight gain or loss, and changes in personal grooming and hygiene. During the holidays, individuals struggling with addiction might go to extra lengths to hide these physical changes – making it imperative to be very observant.

3. Financial Strain

The holiday season can pose a monetary burden for many, but people dealing with addiction will often face severe financial challenges. Keep an eye out for unusual financial stress, such as:

  • constantly borrowing money
  • unexplained expenses
  • disappearance of valuable items from the house.

4. Neglect of Responsibilities

Neglecting work-related, school-related, or familial/ personal obligations is another common indicator of substance abuse. During the holidays, this might be particularly evident in failing to participate in family parties and traditions, or neglecting their role in organizing celebrations.

5. Social Isolation

Isolation from friends and family, especially during a time meant for bonding and togetherness such as the holidays, may be indicative of a deeper issue. Individuals struggling with addiction might withdraw from social activities, preferring isolation or associating with a new group of friends who share their negative habits.

6. Changes in Sleep Patterns

Abnormal sleep patterns – whether insomnia or excessive sleep – can often be linked to substance abuse. Be sure to keep an eye on your loved one’s sleep habits during the holidays, as extreme irregularities may be a sign of an underlying problem.

7. Physical Neglect

Holiday season often coincides with an increase in drinking, partying, and unhealthy behaviors. For an individual battling substance use disorder, this could mean further abandoning their personal health. Look out for signs such as disregard for personal well-being, neglect of personal grooming, hygiene, and self-care, and/ or ignoring existing health issues.

8. Unexplained Disappearances

Those suffering from addiction may frequently disappear without providing a reasonable explanation, in order to engage in their substance misuse. Over the holidays, this could involve missing family events, arriving late to parties and get-togethers, or being absent for extended periods of time. During the holidays, this behavior may be especially noticeable as family gatherings become more frequent.


9. Change in Friendships

People struggling with SUD will often gravitate to others who have similar interests, abandoning their old group of friends in favor of a drinking or drugging crowd. During the holidays, be vigilant of any significant shifts in your loved one’s social circle. A sudden change of friendships could be indicative of a serious problem.


10. Denial and Defensiveness

When confronted about their unusual behaviors, individuals struggling with addiction often become defensive or deny any wrongdoing. Pat careful attention to their reactions during conversations about their behavior, as excessive defensiveness or avoidance of the topic could indicate an issue.


The Next Step

Recognizing and addressing signs of addiction in loved ones during the holiday season requires a delicate balance of observation and empathy. It’s critical to approach the situation with care, avoiding any judgement or condemnation. If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above and suspect that a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, consider initiating an open, honest, yet direct conversation, expressing your concern and support. Encourage your loved one to seek professional help if it is necessary, and assure them that you will support and assist them along each step of the recovery journey.

This conversation may be a difficult one to hold, but remember that it will open the pathway to healing and much future beauty and joy. With a strong commitment and a lot of hard work, you and your loved one will emerge from this saga stronger and better than ever before!

If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, reach out to Avenues Recovery Center today to speak to a trained and knowledgeable addiction treatment specialist. Thet will answer any and all of your questions, conduct a free verification of insurance benefits, and guide you through the many options available to you. You may feel unsure about admitting to treatment before Christmas, but there’s no season like holiday season at Avenues – it’s the most beautiful time of year!

Join our tight-knit family this year, and make this holiday season a joyous one and every future holiday a possibility. Don’t delay – there’s nothing to lose! Admit now!

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