Television commercials and movies teach us that family gatherings are warm, laughter-filled experiences filled with joy. In reality, that is rare, particularly in families where there may be addiction and mental health diagnoses. For a teen in early recovery, extended family gatherings can be especially triggering. This means the holiday season may not be such a wonderful time of year after all.
The Mythology of Happy Extended Family Gatherings
Extended family gatherings often bring plenty of warmth, love, and catching up together. However, getting together with extended family often reminds people of why they no longer live together, as well. Particularly during the holiday season, there is plenty of stress, less sleep, and more alcohol consumed, all of which often lead to a toxic family environment.
The myth that families miraculously come together for the holidays and get along perfectly, sharing only happy memories, is one that only exists on greeting cards and in holiday movies. More often than not, family members will end up hurt or angry with one another during holiday festivities. This environment can be very difficult for a teen who is in early recovery.
Extended Family Triggers for Your Teen in Early Recovery
While adults may be enjoying their time catching up with family, a teen’s experience can be very, very different. Amidst all of the festivities and conversations, your child may be suffering anxiety or triggers that could cause them to relapse. While parents may enjoy a change of environment or time with loved ones, those same things can be very difficult for a teen in early recovery to manage.
Some of the common triggers associated with extended family during the holidays include:
- Other family members drinking or using substances
- Tension or fighting among family members
- Reliving past trauma involving extended family members
- Feeling anxious, uncomfortable, or trapped with unfamiliar people or situations
- Long or uncomfortable travel that can cause anxiety or exhaustion
- Being removed from their support system, such as a sponsor and regular meetings
The Impact of Familial Addiction and Mental Health Issues on Your Teen
Due to the very genetic nature of substance abuse, extended family environments often contain family members who actively drink or use substances. Being in such close proximity to others who are in active addiction can easily lead to relapse in teens. Certainly, having access to alcohol or other substances is not at all helpful to someone in recovery.
The other side of familial addiction and mental health issues is the behaviors and the consequences that come along with a lack of wellness. For instance, family members who are argumentative or abusive, either verbally or otherwise, can create new traumatic situations that can trigger your child. Likewise, someone who is acting excessively happy or friendly may also trigger a relapse, as they help your child recall a time when they also acted in this way. There are many ways that addiction and behavioral health can impact your teen in early recovery.
Your Responsibilities as a Parent in Your Teen’s Recovery
As a parent, giving your teen more independence and autonomy is important. When it comes to the holidays, however, your child is depending on you to help keep them safe from family triggers. Forcing them to be exposed to situations that are potentially triggering to them in the name of holiday traditions or extended family can be extremely dangerous to their recovery.
Your responsibilities to them as a parent include offering them a safe haven from harmful influences during their recovery. This includes extended family gatherings. Even if holiday gatherings are the expectation, your primary responsibility as a parent is to your teen and their well-being. If that means keeping them away from extended family to protect them in early recovery, then that may be a necessary action you need to take as a parent.
Weighing the Risks and Benefits of Extended Family Gatherings
At the “most wonderful time of the year,” are you appropriately weighing the risks and benefits of extended family gatherings? Have you considered the risks of spending time with extended family? Are you being supportive of your teen’s recovery? Do the benefits of seeing extended family outweigh protecting your child’s wellness and recovery from addiction? These are the difficult questions that you, as a parent, must answer during the holidays.
Having an open, honest discussion with your teen about their mental health and the risks and benefits of attending extended family gatherings will provide you with the most important information you need to make an informed decision. Pay attention to nonverbal cues as well when you discuss the possibilities. Being objective about the potential harm that extended family gatherings can cause to your teen’s recovery will help you make the right decision for your child this holiday season.
Extended family gatherings during the holidays are meant to be happy but can often be triggering for teens in recovery. Understanding the impact that family can have on your teen during the holidays can help to prevent a relapse. Sustain Recovery emphasizes the family’s role in the recovery process. We know the risks that extended family can present in a teen’s recovery when there is active addiction or exposure to current or past trauma. We focus on helping teens heal from their deep-rooted problems in our extended residential program located in Irvine, California. We help them transition back into their lives gradually to encourage a more successful long-term recovery. Contact Sustain at (949) 407-9052 today