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Navigating the holidays for families experiencing addiction

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Mike Moen

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(Greater Dakota News Service) Celebrating the holiday season can be complicated for households with a loved one dealing with an addiction.

A South Dakota expert said there are steps the individual and their family can take to avoid major problems.

Matt Walz, representative for the Keystone Treatment Center, said because alcohol is often provided at holiday gatherings, it is important for the host to provide different beverage options. The person in recovery can also plan ahead by getting a sense of the best time to leave if other guests are likely to be drinking more.

Walz stressed the approach is not "one-size-fits-all," and advised avoiding rash decisions. 

"Some things that families like to try to do at family gatherings, in good faith, is they try to do, you know, guilting or shaming -- or just ignoring or doing the 'ostrich,' head in the sand -- it kind of runs the gamut," Walz explained.

He pointed out you can help the person feel supported and recognize they are dealing with an issue which can improve over time. For individuals going through a 12-step recovery process, Walz recommended talking with their sponsor before a party to determine the best approach, or whether it is appropriate to attend. He noted maintaining sobriety is more important than missing a gathering.

If a person's addiction is brought up at a holiday party, Walz suggested avoiding conversations with a large group of people. He said one-on-one chats are more manageable.

"Just asking, 'Well, how's it going? How's that working for you? Is there anything I can do to help?'" Walz recommended.

Walz added praising the person in their recovery is often viewed as an effective strategy. But he noted the stress from holiday planning might also trigger someone to drink excessively. Experts recommend taking walks or other exploring other, healthy coping mechanisms to minimize stress.