Unhappy Holidays: Handling a Family Member Who Typically Gets Drunk

The scene is all-too familiar for many American families. One family member gets blotto and ruins holiday get-togethers to such an extent that it spells humiliation for everyone concerned. Not the least of which are any children present who have to witness the intoxication of their parent or grandparent or other family member.

Maybe this is the holiday season you can do something about it. Here are some tips on how to handle a family member who typically – let’s say, regularly – gets drunk during the holidays.

Christmas, New Year’s, Halloween, Fourth of July – It Doesn’t Matter Which

First of all, we tend to think of people getting drunk out of their minds on important family holiday get-togethers, including Christmas and New Year’s Eve. But it doesn’t really matter what time of year it is or which holiday is on the calendar. When it comes to a family member using the occasion to get drunk, it’s a never-ending cycle that will only get repeated yet again once the next holiday rolls around.

So, since you can’t count on sobriety even being close to reality for your loved one, how are you to handle such occasions? Should you banish everyone from the house, lock the doors, turn off the lights, and not answer the phone? Should everyone be punished because your one family member is pretty much guaranteed, based on past performance, to go overboard and wind up falling-down drunk this holiday?

The answer is that you have to do what you deem is best for your family, given your circumstances. But there are some things that you might want to consider before the holiday itself actually is upon you.

Take a Trip Out of Town

No, this doesn’t mean that you should abandon the family and blow out of town until the holiday is over. Rather, it means that you might want to consider the possibility of taking the family on a trip out of town for the actual celebration of the holiday – or just to have a change of scene.

This isn’t as strange as it may sound. No, you’re not running away from reality, but you are attempting to introduce something different that may make things easier for your usually-imbibing loved one to accept. Ask yourself if a change of scenery has worked before. If so, it may definitely be something you want to repeat. If you’ve never gone away for the holiday, now may be the time to give it a try.

There is no doubt that being in a new environment can produce change. It certainly isn’t a guarantee, though, so you should be prepared for the eventuality that your loved one will just take this as another opportunity to tie one on. But it is worth considering, especially if you make it a point to say that this is one holiday that you want to be special for everyone in the family. You want to see new things, experience activities together as a loving family, and for that, everyone needs to put their best efforts into it.

Celebrate the Holiday on a Different Day

Sometimes we load ourselves up with stress and tension over the thought of the holiday itself. This could be the case for your loved one that likes to get drunk during holiday gatherings. Another suggestion for how to deal with this situation is to attempt to defuse some of the tension and anxiety associated with the holiday by holding a get-together or family celebration on a day other than the actual holiday.

This practice is familiar to families that need to celebrate with different sets of grandparents or multiple sibling families or have numerous friends with whom they like to spend time during the holidays. Some families even find that they like to celebrate a particular holiday a week ahead of time or even after a holiday. In the case of going away for a holiday, celebrating with friends or other family members on your return is just an extension of the earlier recommendation.

The principle is pretty much the same: you are switching up what is usual and expected. This may just be enough to help your loved one take it easy on the booze this time around. Then again, there’s no guarantee. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to give this suggestion a try.

No Booze, No Problem

Your loved one can’t get drunk if there’s no alcohol available, right? While this may take some doing to make a clean sweep of the premises, ridding it of all alcoholic beverages prior to your loved one scouring the house for booze, it may be enough to at least give him or her pause. Hiding the keys to the car so that your loved one can’t go out and buy replacement liquor may or may not be advisable. It depends on whether or not your loved one has a temper, is easily dissuaded, or you can convince him or her that this holiday you’re going to celebrate sans alcohol.

There’s another situation where if there’s no alcohol available, there is less likelihood that your loved one can drink to excess. That’s if wherever you are has no liquor present, no stores that sell liquor, and no bars or taverns within driving distance. Sound like someplace on Mars? Believe it or not, there are places where it’s virtually booze-free. You might be in an isolated rural area, or vacationing in a remote location, or staying with friends who don’t drink – and don’t allow alcohol to be in their home.

Bottom line here is the fact that if there’s no access to alcohol, your loved one can’t use the occasion as an excuse to drink. No booze, no problem – at least for the time being. It may be enough to get you through the holiday without having to endure the embarrassment and heartache caused by a loved one having too much to drink yet again.

Water it Down

Some might find this approach a little sneaky or even distasteful, but if you’re truly concerned about your loved one getting drunk during the holidays, make it a point that you pour the drinks. Not only that, but water them down as you do.

If you conveniently “run out” of booze, that’s okay too. Just be sure that you have plenty of alternatives available to snack on and drink, lots of food in the form of hearty casseroles, protein, terrific desserts, and so on. Be sure to brew fresh pots of coffee or make cappuccinos and espressos for gathered family and friends.

Of course, an even better idea is to have get-togethers where there is no alcohol at all consumed. That may not go over so well with your loved one who’s adamant about continuing his or her drinking, but it is something to consider.

You could also forego get-togethers entirely, at least until your loved one comes to grips with his or her drinking, recognizes that there is a problem, and agrees to get help.

Gain Strength and Support Through Al-Anon

Maybe you are at your wit’s end, having exhausted all your methods of dealing with your loved one who continues to get drunk at every available opportunity, holidays included. It may be time that you look to how you can heal yourself, since you cannot change the behavior of your loved one.

This is a tough time for introspection. On the one hand, you may not believe that you have a problem at all. It’s your loved one’s problem, his or her abuse of or dependence upon alcohol, right? Well, there may be something in your own behavior that helps exacerbate the situation, something that you do or say that actually either enables your loved one’s drinking or pushes his or her buttons to do so, even unwittingly.

There are countless different situations that occur in people’s lives and there’s no single solution as to how to handle one person’s out-of-control drinking versus another’s. Least of all, for those loved ones who are intimately involved with and/or live with the alcoholic. But there is help available through a support group called Al-Anon.

What goes on at Al-Anon meetings? How can they help you to deal with your loved one that typically gets drunk during the holidays – and many other times as well? They help by offering support and encouragement. By listening to other Al-Anon group members talk about their experiences, you may learn something that could be applicable in your own situation. If certain strategies and techniques have worked for others, they may also work for you.

There’s no harm in checking it out, is there? After all, you need to maintain your own healthy and positive outlook on life. You can’t allow yourself to be consumed by your loved one’s addiction, nor fall victim to the possible threats, physical and/or emotional damage that he or she may inflict upon you. You need to learn how to live with the Al-Anon approach that suggests one day at a time.

Avoid Isolation and Self-Denial

Another common tendency is for the loved ones of alcoholics to wall themselves away from outside society, to deny themselves the company of friends because they’re afraid that others will know what’s going on and be judgmental or turn away.

The last thing you need when you’re trying to learn how to handle a family member who typically gets drunk during the holidays is to confine yourself to the four walls of your home.

Trying to cope with the repeated disappointment, the anger, bitterness, episodes of verbal and/or physical abuse, worsening financial situation and repercussions of alcohol abuse that may include arrests, incarceration, fines and legal fees, you may want to put it all behind you, to deny that it ever happened. Worst of all, you probably try to keep up a brave front, insisting to all that everything is just fine, when it absolutely is not.

Feeling completely overwhelmed will take its toll on you. That won’t help you, your loved one with the drinking problem, or anyone else in the family. It’s up to you do heal you, and for that you need to get outside your situation and obtain help wherever you can.

This could be accomplished by going for counseling, in addition to participating in Al-Anon meetings. Read all you can on dealing with the alcoholism of a loved one, including coping strategies and techniques and how you can maintain your own resilience and positive outlook. Above all, do not deny that you have the right to a peaceful and fulfilling life. Becoming aware of your own needs and doing what you can to actively pursue your dreams should be at the top of your list. By being healthy and committed to pursuit of your goals you will also be setting a good example for your loved one who has a problem with drinking.

Encourage Treatment for Your Loved One

It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway, the best thing for your loved one or family member who typically gets drunk during the holidays is to encourage him or her to go into treatment.

If this pattern of getting blotto during the holidays has continued for many months or years, you may wish to consider a professional intervention to more or less force the issue. During the course of a professional intervention, conducted by a certified interventionist, your loved one will hear from you and other family members and loved ones what his or her drinking has done to them, how it has impacted them personally. Your loved one will hear that you only want him or her to accept treatment and to make the changes necessary to heal.

Your loved one will also hear from you and others, including the interventionist, that things have to change, that you will no longer tolerate or enable the drinking. You have to draw the line in the sand, make it emphatic that you love the individual, but you will no longer be part of his or her drinking behavior. You will not condone it or clean up any messes that result because of it. That means no posting bail if he or she gets arrested, no tolerating physical and/or verbal abuse, none of that.

And, you need to mean it. Going through an intervention has but one end goal: to get your loved one to accept going into treatment. Arrangements will need to be made ahead of time so that once your loved one agrees to get help, he or she is immediately transported to the rehab or treatment facility, usually accompanied by the interventionist. The idea is to do it right then, before any excuses to wait until tomorrow or next week or some other time come out of your loved one’s mouth.

Why not do the intervention yourself? For one thing, unless you’re a professional drug and alcohol interventionist, you aren’t properly equipped to handle the emotional aspects of the intervention. You may be swayed by tears and angry outbursts, feel a sense of shame or guilt about confronting your loved one. Worst of all, you may back down and allow your loved one to continue behaving as before.

When looking for a professional interventionist, search for one that is board registered and certified by the Association of Intervention Specialist Certification Board (AISCB).

Research has shown that when some drinkers get treatment to learn how to overcome their drinking problem and then enter a recovery program, their chances at sustaining long-term recovery are improved if they are supported by family members and loved ones who are also in a recovery program, such as Al-Anon.

How Bad Is It?

Ask yourself how bad the situation is. Are you afraid for your safety or for that of your children or other family members because your loved one or some other family member consistently gets drunk and out of control during the holiday? If so, you may need to remove yourself from the premises, to take your children to safety where you and they will not be harmed nor subjected to the turmoil and stress surrounding your loved one’s drunken behavior.

There is no easy answer here, other than your safety and that of your children and other affected family members has to be paramount. Nothing else is that important, not saving face or worrying about the neighbors or how you’ll get by. You are not responsible for your loved one’s problems with alcohol, but you cannot condone or enable his or her drinking either. Maybe leaving is the best solution, if only for a while until your loved one admits there is a problem and agrees to get help to overcome it.

Remember, when a family member gets drunk during the holidays and it’s an all-the-time occurrence, the situation won’t change unless and until the drinker decides to change his or her behavior. That doesn’t mean that you have to stick around and watch the self-destruction or play an enabling part in it. In fact, you’re doing everyone, including you and the drinker, a disservice if you do.

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