Alcohol at Christmas…is it worth it?

With the holiday season fast approaching, I thought I would raise a topic that many families struggle with, particularly if there is a family member who struggles with an alcohol addiction.  Gathering for a family meal together has become iconic over the Christmas season, whether that’s Christmas day itself or another day specified for a family gathering.  But, time and again the topic arises “what to do about ________’s drinking”?  This can be an all too often struggle for the family; however, the family is often not alone in that struggle.  For the individual with the issue, facing “another family meal” can be stressful, especially if they have not yet made the choice to stop using.

If you have a family member though who has been in Recovery from an alcohol addiction, I want to encourage you to reconsider your approach to supporting this family member.  I want to challenge you to consider avoiding completely the use of alcohol in your meal and celebration preparations.  Contrary to popular belief, alcohol does not evaporate when heated. Studies have shown that as much as two-thirds of it still exists after 20 minutes of cooking.  The amount of alcohol that burns off depends on the cooking method used and how long the alcohol is cooked. When added after cooking, 100% of the alcoholic content remains.

Chances are, just leaving alcohol completely out of a recipe will not change the flavor of the food. If it plays an integral part, try to experiment with substitutions. It is possible to come up with a flavorful, alcohol free meal or dessert.

Since 1963 Lays potato chip’s slogan has been “Betcha can’t have just one”, meaning chips; however, I want to challenge you to think of the impact that “just one” drink will have on someone in recovery?  Alcoholics themselves recognize that it’s not the 8th or 9th drink that is the problem.  It’s the first drink that is the problem because this starts them back on a path of using.  So, instead of serving chicken done in a whiskey glaze, perhaps consider a honey-cinnamon glaze.  Instead of liqueur filled chocolates, what about high quality chocolate truffles made by a local chocolatier?

Other foods to be aware of that contain alcohol are salad dressings, soups, Dijon mustard, pure vanilla/almond/rum extracts, some recipes for whipped cream, cherries jubilee, flambé deserts, Black forest cake, fruit cake, wine flavoured cheeses and pates.

When it comes to drinks themselves, what about eliminating alcohol completely from what is available for the day? Champanades of all different flavours are delightful as are flavoured waters such as cucumber, lemon, lime or other fruit waters.  Instead of offering your family member with an alcohol issue something different from the rest of your guests, why not treat everyone the same?  Please remember that both non-alcohol and de-alcoholized beer contain some alcohol.  Also, for others, it may not be the contents of the bottle or glass that becomes problematic but the shape of the glass can also be a trigger for others.

I have worked in both long and short term recovery programs as well as offering community based treatment options and taught courses in the area of addictions recovery for many, many years.  I am also a Canadian Certified Addictions Counsellor and it always amazes and stupefies me why, when a family member who is in recovery comes home on a pass or immediately after successfully completing a treatment program, that the very people who wanted them to enter a recovery program (parents, grandparents, wife, husband, children) serve alcohol for a celebratory meal.  Perhaps we need to rethink our decisions before we set the person up for failure.

Some families struggle with not knowing what else they can do to assist their loved one but do not know where to turn.  At ACT Associates we now offer an online course called “Understanding addictions in my family and what I can do about it”.  To register, please ur home page.

This is just something to think about ….

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