Five Ways to Set Boundaries During the Holidays

Group of happy friends during wintertime.

Updated on 12/05/23

Content reviewed by Gillian Bieler LCSW, CSAT

The holidays can be an especially stressful time of year for individuals who are recovering from addiction. Learning how to set and maintain healthy boundaries with family and friends can help to manage triggers, avoid relapse and succeed for another year in recovery.

Isolation from Family & Friends

The holidays can be stressful for a number of reasons. For example, much like the last holiday season, the United States is still trying to grapple with COVID-19. States like California have strict policies that restrict social interactions. Many people will, once again, spend this holiday season alone or with limited opportunities to bond with family and friends.

Even under normal circumstances, this can be a lonely and isolating experience, leading to mental health struggles with anxiety and depression. A study published in the Lancet this year, titled Depression and anxiety disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic: knowns and unknowns, estimated a global increase of 27.6% and 25.6% in the prevalence of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders, respectively. However, it is important to note that this study does not make claims about what caused this increase, as the increases may be attributable to multiple variables, including lockdowns, economic consequences, and illness.

Social support and being a part of a community are essential for human well-being and are particularly crucial for those who are in recovery. With no one around to hold an individual accountable while solitude creeps in, substance use can spiral out of control.

Triggers May Be Everywhere

Some people see the holidays not only as a time to bond and reunite with loved ones but also to overindulge in food, drink, and gifts. This is the “season of giving,” after all. The association of these celebrations with unrestrained consumption and dopamine-producing activities can be triggering. Just seeing someone else drinking alcohol and the effects that it can have can leave a person wondering “one drink won’t hurt, right?” Some individuals can manage to be in such an environment, but others cannot.

For others, spending time with family is not as joyous a time as one might think. One’s family home may be the place where their problems with substances began. The house may be associated with painful memories. Family members may have overwhelming questions or thoughts about one’s recovery that they are not ready to deal with. Maybe an individual has feelings of guilt and shame about their addiction that they have not learned to effectively manage yet.

These triggering experiences can drain one’s emotional energy and cause stress and anxiety. Feelings such as these are common causes of substance use and relapse.

Why Boundaries Are Important

Setting and enforcing boundaries is a critical aspect of living substance-free for the long term. Boundaries draw the line between what one is comfortable with and what they are not. They help protect an individual from people, situations, things, and behaviors that can compromise their well-being. Boundaries come in many different forms:

  • Time-based boundaries
  • Sexual boundaries
  • Physical boundaries
  • Emotional boundaries
  • Intellectual boundaries
  • Material boundaries

How A Person Can Set Boundaries

Holiday festivities do not have to be stressful. The power is in the individual’s hands to manage their interactions and decide what works for them and what does not. It is important for an individual to reflect on boundaries before they enter the room with family and friends in order to better enforce them. Here are five ways an individual can establish boundaries:

1. Spend time looking inward. Setting boundaries requires one to think deeply about what their goals and values are. Knowing one’s goals and values can help them lead a successful and fulfilling life in recovery.

2. Practice communicating. If an individual does not communicate their boundaries, no one will know what they are. Establishing boundaries allows other people to have clear expectations.

3. Strike a balance and be reflexive. Boundaries are critical, but it is important for an individual to know when they are becoming rigid. This process is reflexive, requiring the individual to reanalyze interactions and determine if anything has changed.

4. Reflect on progress. Talking about boundaries with a therapist or peers in recovery meetings and receiving feedback can help to gain perspective and evaluate one’s progress with enforcing their boundaries.

5. Removing oneself from situations that cross the line, or abstain altogether is vital. Sometimes, listening to one’s own intuition and walking away or not showing up is the best decision to make for one’s protection.

Staying Sober This Season

For individuals recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, this time of year can be anxiety-inducing. With the added stress of the pandemic and associated mandates, reverting back to using substances poses a serious risk. It is important for these individuals to establish healthy boundaries to properly take care of their needs and well-being. This is essential to staying sober, not only during the holidays but all year long.

For individuals in addiction recovery, the holidays can be associated with stress and anxiety. Triggers can come in the form of memories, smells, behaviors, and interactions. Setting boundaries can help you define what you expect from friends and family and what they should expect from you. Casa Palmera is a fully licensed residential treatment facility in West Los Angeles. We specialize in treating many types of addiction with programs rooted in 12-Step philosophy. We also offer holistic therapies that get your mind, body, and spirit back to health, treating co-occurring disorders like anxiety and depression. At Casa Palmera, we recognize that your recovery will be undermined if these conditions are not managed effectively. Stress is a common cause of relapse that our aftercare programs target to help you stick to your long-term recovery plan. This holiday season doesn’t have to be stressful. Contact us today to learn more.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.