At what point do you say something about someone's drinking?

reno_fanAugust 27, 2006

Wow, how can I word this delicately and anonymously?

We went on a weekend trip for a family gathering. There is one family member who we have no chance of eliminating from our lives.

She has always been a drinker, but it's gotten worse over the years. Over the past 2, we've purposely tried to limit contact with her, as we just cannot stand to be around her when she's drunk and emotional. (Very lovey-dovey drunk, not so much temper tantrum drunk.)

This weekend was so bad, DH and I were actually contemplating feigning illness just so we'd have an excuse to leave early! It was baaaaad.

She keeps pressing for us to send the kids up to see her. (She recently remarried and moved to a very exciting state.) To be blunt, there's no way in hell we'd send the kids up there! We don't even want to go as a group. We cannot stand to be around her.

My question is; at what point do you stop avoiding, and fess up to the person? I *know* she'd be shocked and apalled that we think she has a problem, and I also know, she won't change. Her new husband is the same way.

Again, it's not violent drunk, but rather sloppy, emotional, sappy drunk. So there's not any incident we can really point to, other than to say we've noticed it progressively getting worse.

Now that she's moved, we only see her maybe once every 6 months, so I really don't know how (or if) to bring it up.

Ugh. I wish she'd just grow up and realize how much it's affecting her ability to share with her family!

Any tips?

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"I also know, she won't change..."

That says a lot. Unless it was my sister or someone VERY close to me, I wouldn't say a thing. I'd just try to make the every six months into every twelve months.

Are there kids involved?

    Bookmark   August 27, 2006 at 9:28PM
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I have some neighbors like that. They are very nice, but boy, can they chug down the wine! I wasn't much of a drinker when I was young and single, drink even less after having kids and don't have much tolerance for those that get too drunk.

I don't think there is much you can do now that she has moved away. If she comes to your house for a visit I guess you could hide the liquor! If she is going to be around your kids you could say that the last time you saw her she had too much to drink and the kids had questions about her behavior. Ask her to take it easy in front of the kids. Maybe she will listen, maybe not. Worth a try.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2006 at 9:35PM
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reno fan: you say that her new husband is the same - I assume you meant that he drinks too. Because of this I think there would be very little reason or incentive for her to change. They are feeding each others habit. I don't think there is much for you to say to her that would: 1. help her; 2. make her quit; or 3. make her realize how big of a boor she is. I agree with sue36. Try to space out the visits to once a year.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2006 at 9:53PM
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Unless this person is really a close friend, I'm not sure I'd bother saying anything about it. We have some friends like this and after a while we just drifted apart and rarely see each other anymore. I'm fine with that because they are no longer enjoyable to be around since they are obnoxiously drunk most of the time. For me, time's to precious to spend with folks like that since we don't enjoy doing the same thing.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 12:27AM
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Even if it is family, I would not necessarily say anything, unless the person is close to you. If you are really bothered by it, I'll suggest Al-Anon, for family and friends of alcoholics. If the person is really close to you, maybe say somehting, but I'd go to Al-Anon first.

A friend at Al-Anon told me that there are three things that she hold close... she didn't cause her husband's drinking, she cannot control it nor can she cure it.

What is left are ways to cope and not be co-dependant, altho the latter doesn't seem a problem in your case.

I have tried to say something to my brother, but that isn't going to go anywhere. I feel sorry for him, but there is nothing that I can do. And I do not like his company, not even his phone calls. Which is a shame.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 12:36AM
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That's so sad, Reno. Poor lady. God help her. What do other family members think?

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 1:26AM
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DH says we should say nothing. Says we're too distant (both geographically and now emotionally) for it to have any usefulness or impact.

Sadly, she'd just think we were jealous of her new move, new life, new state, new house, etc, if we said anything to her.

For a while, we instituted a "No alcohol in the house under any circumstances" rule when she was around. We found that she gets EXTREMELY hostile if she cannot have her box of wine every night. Extremely. After a few years, we relented, as we couldn't stand seeing her snap at the kids and be annoyed with everyone anymore than we liked seeing her sloppily telling everyone how much she loves us....

She starts drinking about 5pm, and continues until bedtime. She carries her box of wine with her when she comes; it's the first stop she makes when she arrives. Her husband carries a bottle of scotch with him, and they both drink all evening. It's a sight to behold if they go out to eat. They will have already had their 3 glasses at home, then the order 3 or 4 more at dinner, then again they drink at home.

A few other family members have said they've noticed the drinking increasing, as well.

I guess I'm just stuck, as she keeps wanting the kids to come up and see her (and under normal circumstances, it could be a fantastic trip....), and I keep putting her and the kids off. "We're so busy...our schedules are tight....we have no vacation time left..." Then she'll say to just send one at a time. The kids are starting to wonder why they haven't been able to go see her. (This is a grandparent)

The drinking is bad enough when they're out of their environment. They take it with them, for crying out loud. I won't even entertain the thought of the kids staying with them.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 7:58AM
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I assume they drink and drive; right there, it's a point to bring up and that's non negotiable as far as letting your kids visit them; you could state that quite clearly.

Or else, say nothing, no one can change them unless they want to. It's a disease they have; the only cure is not to drink at all. And that's not easy.
Since it's a grandparent, you might want to look into some books to help you come to grips with this.

Alcoholics usually have to hit the bottom of the barrel before doing anything
about their problem, it's pretty typical. The social acceptability of alcohol, as opposed to hard drugs, makes it far more rampant than we think.
But not less difficult to deal with. Good luck to you; just keep making up excuses for the kids not to visit.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 9:20AM
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Mitch, I guess you're right. Considering the distance, it's really just easier to deflect and make excuses.

I was so freakin' annoyed this weekend I wanted to just blurt something out, but I'm glad I held my tongue. I was ready to scream. I've never been so miserable! DH was seething, I was seething, and then I'd look at the kids, and realize that they had no idea what was going on....yet.

I suppose I'm dreading the time they start realizing what's going on. I know they already have a clue, but not the extent of it. My 12 DD has already said she doesn't like being alone with her when she gets all sappy. I guess I'm afraid of what I'd tell them, or what I should tell them, or what they may repeat.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 9:34AM
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Two things.

First, do not let your children visit under any conditions or circumstances. Remember- You Are The Mother. I was the skunk at the picnic for years when I refused to allow my kids to visit a maiden aunt. She is a total loon- unbelievably irresponsible- and has no idea how to treat children. She gave DD2 her lighter because 'she wanted to play with it.' I caught her berating and shaming my little DS years ago for spilling a glass of water and said 'NO more!' You are the parent and have the right to make many decisions on behalf of your children- do not apologize and if necessary, tell her 'because we are not comfortable with your drinking.' If this relative physically or verbally threatened your children, you BET you'd speak up- and quickly. This is a threat of another kind. Listen to that Women's Intuition.

Which brings me to #2. If you have a 12YO, I can guarantee you she's been exposed to or had friends who have been exposed to alcohol already. You have smart kids- they DO know what's going on and you need to acknowledge that the relative drinks too much. Not doing so gives a tacit approval to her actions.

Talk to your kids. They don't need to think that every relative is perfect- that's a dangerous perspective for a child to have. Don't worry about what they may repeat- an honest talk with them about drinking, taking responsibility for one's actions and alcoholism as a disease is far more important for your children than an innocently repeated 'You drink too much!'

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 10:14AM
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Is this grandparent the parent of you or DH? The way you casually mention "granparent" it's sounds like the person is not related to you or DH. Being that it's a grandparent I would tell that person and your children (old enough to understand at 12) - in a kind, diplomatic way - that you are not comfortable having the children spending time with the grandparent without you being present due the amount of alcohol being consumed on a daily basis.

Having grown up with some alcoholics in my family, I can tell you a 12 year old can see what's going on - and may be as uncomfortable being around people who are drunk as much as you are. I think it would be a good conversation to have with your kids. These are things that occur in life and things you need to talk about.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 11:43AM
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I agree with mitch, gibby, and pecan. I see no reason to keep silent as this just makes things harder for you in the long run. Be succinct but do let this grandmother know that the reason she will not be seeing her grandkids as much as she'd like is due to the drinking. It is better, IMO, to be honest about that than to make excuses and let her think it could be that you don't like HER. It's not her you dislike, it's her drinking, and that is a very valid reason for limiting the time you spend with her. She needs to hear it and face it. Perhaps it will not change her behavior, but keeping silent certainly won't, either. That just makes you crazy because there is this huge problem and you have to pretend there isn't.

It's slight, but there is a chance that your words will alert her to the impact her drinking is having on her relationships and prompt eventual change. My grandparents were the same way until one day my mom told her parents (after my grandma had accidentally poked my sister with a diaper pin pretty badly) that she was never bringing the baby over again until they quit drinking. Believe it or not, they did quit, or at least they never drank around my parents. By the time I came along (my grandfather had died by then), my grandmother was a tee-totaler and I never saw her drink a drop. She lived with us for about 10 years and there was no drinking. This would be an unusual scenario, but I see nothing to be gained by you sitting by and silently seething. If nothing else, I think you need to be open with her about the effect her behavior has on your family's emotional well being.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 12:39PM
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I meant to add that I would say it to her once and leave it at that. You have then made it her choice as to whether or not she will see you and the kids more often. This takes the burden off of you and you won't have to make constant excuses. The others are right about the kids having an idea already about what is going on. It is a good, albeit a sad, opportunity to discuss the issue of drinking.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 12:44PM
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Excellent advice from seeking. It's a difficult position to be in - making excuses for not doing something that you know you will never do, while the other party keeps pushing.

I think that all you have to say is that you're uncomfortable with their drinking habits and therefore do not feel comfortable having them care for your kids. I probably wouldn't delve into it any further than that. That way you're sort of putting the onus on yourself: "I'm uncomfortable" as opposed to "You drink too much.

I also agree that talking to the kids is imparitive. Even very young kids can understand the concept of drinking/drugs being bad when abused. I'm a firm believer in being very honest with kids - if there's a problem, the kids will figure it out, and even if they can't pinpoint the exact cause, trying to hide it from them is, at best, futile, at worst, betraying their trust.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 2:04PM
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I agree with the others. Because drinking is so socially acceptable, it's possible she is unaware that her drinking has crept up to the point that it's gotten out of control.

It will certainly be a difficult discussion, but if nobody ever says anything, how could a change ever begin to happen...? Seeking's point about keeping the conversation short, direct, and unambiguous is an excellent one. No doubt, any conversation that lasts longer than 60 seconds will come off sound like 'harping'.

I'd respectfully disagree with Lowspark about the "I phrasing". Unless you happen to work a miracle and hit your timing perfectly (right when she is beginning to realize she has a serious problem and needs to change), you're going to be blamed anyway for being overprotective and unreasonable. Why plant the idea? It's just an excuse. I like Gibby's "too much alcohol being consumed on a daily basis" approach. It communicates clearly without accusing.

Definitely talk to your 12 year old. Otherwise, you're missing a huge opportunity to point out what a drunk person looks like to others. Your DD is at a very impressionable age right now, and if she realizes what's going on before you explain it to her, you'll come off looking like a huge hypocrit -- condoning drunken behavior in others while presumably warning her about the evils of alcohol. She also needs to hear that a tendency towards alcoholism can run in the family, and that she needs to be extra careful...

Good luck ---

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 3:07PM
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A few years back, we had a talk with her. We told her the alcohol consumption really bothered us, and it bothered us to have the kids see how she was acting. That's when we instituted the "no alcohol in the house" rule. She thought we were the ones with the problem. She was reluctantly willing to follow our house rules, but she did not take that conversation as anything other than fanatical rantings on our part. She thought we were overreacting.

I'm going to have to talk to the older kids, and DH and I need to come up with a plan of attack for the repeated invitations. Since we already tried talking to her a few years ago without it making any difference, he's hesitant to bring it up again.

I suppose we just need to be ready to deflect.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 3:48PM
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I see your point. The reason I say to use the "I" phrasing is because it seems that this person is not going to change no matter what is said. And from my point of view, as a mother, I'd rather just take the responsibility for limiting things by saying, "this is how I feel," than to get into any kind of confrontation regarding whether that person is actually drinking too much or whether they can admit to that.

If my mission were to get them to stop drinking, the approach would be different. But if my mission (as I think reno's is) were to keep my kids away and to stop her asking for that to happen, then the best way (IMHO) is to minimize the confrontational aspect as much as possible, while making my position clear and final.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 6:06PM
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reno_fan: I understand it takes an average of 57 (like the ketchup) requests before a person actually gets the message and stops drinking.

IMHO, your instincts are right about not letting your kids stay there. What if there were some type of emergency at night while they are visiting? Grandma and her husband would be passed out and/or too wasted to do anything.

I also have a 12 YO girl, and I do not think she is too young to understand what alcoholism looks like and to understand that it is a progressive disease -- and that she may be more physically vulnerable to this disease with an alcoholic relative. She may have classmates whose families have been affected by parental drinking; my daughter does.

As to saying something? She needs to understand her drinking is affecting her family relationships. But I doubt she will *hear* you the first or second or third time around, and she surely is not ready to stop right now. It sounds like your DH has escaped this disease, thank goodness. Best wishes.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 8:56PM
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Reno, I think it's great that you decided to talk to your kids, they need answers about why they don't visit grandmom.
And that you just want them to be safe.

I also think it's good to mention to grandmother why the kids can't come up to visit alone. You are not asking her/them to change, just stating why they can't visit. It doesn't matter if they 'get it' or not. Tell them: If they stop drinking then of course things could be different.

What are the ramifications? Well they'll probably stop inviting the kids up. Or they may stop drinking. In a few years, your children, fully warned and if responsible will be able to visit -If they have a strong enough will to not get in a car or any other thing that would put them in harms way with them. Talk to her husband, maybe he has at least sense enough to listen and understand. Be frank.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2006 at 12:38AM
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reno fan, It's too late and I'm too tired right now to say a lot of what I'd like to. For now, I'll just say that I totally empathize with you and understand exactly your situation, for it is mine too. Down to the box of wine, the "no alcohol" rule, the pushing for DD to "come stay for the summer - or just for a week." Only my mother doesn't wait until 5pm--she starts at 10am. And she's not a happy, sappy drunk; she's a depressed "poor pitiful me" and beligerent drunk. I wish I had words of wisdom for you, but we've tried all of the above and honestly, nothing changes, nothing works. But distance. And it's really sad, because I would love for my daughter to be able to know her grandmother the person. But I am too afraid for her to experience grandmother the drunk. And all too soon, she won't be able to anymore. Will I regret it? ... Anyway, more tomorrow perhaps. And thanks for posting this.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2006 at 1:43AM
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I don't comment too much anymore here, but this one is easy.
Al-Anon. You'll find answers there.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2006 at 2:08PM
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Second that: Al-anon.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2006 at 3:16PM
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I don't think you can do or say anything to get someone to make a big change in his or her life if that person has no interest in changing. Stopping drinking or smoking or continuing to drink or smoke is a personal decision.

An excellent book, especially for people who do not want to go to meetings or have people tell their drunk stories every week, is called Rational Recovery. It's an excellent way for a person to stop on their own. It teaches a person methods of stopping any addiction without having to whine about it every week to a group of strangers. It teaches a person to stand up to that inner addictive voice that is not really you, but your addiction talking, seducing you into your next drink, smoke, drug, bet. Check it out - it is fascinating and powerful stuff.

Here is the website:

Here is a link that might be useful: Rational Recovery

    Bookmark   September 14, 2006 at 1:52PM
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I didn't have to deal with this situation with my kids. DH's dad died of of liver disease before I ever met DH. However, I can tell you one thing I do not regret. Telling our kids the truth. It wasn't a plan, but we weren't going to lie to our kids. We tried telling them the simplest of facts, but they are bright and they ask questions. That got them thinking and all of us talking before they reached the age of us not knowing anything.

I'm trying to imagine being in your situation now. I would imagine that your 12 year old does know and that she may have some conflicted feelings about her grandmother and something she knows isn't right. She may also have some confusion about why you seem to ignore it. She needs you to talk honestly with her. You both need to deal with the risk of alcoholism running in your family before she is exposed to alcohol at school or with friends (it happens as early as 12, 13 -- DS's school had a former student come talk to them about the drinking problem she had when she was a student at the same school, having to go through rehab, etc.).

It's not easy, but whatever you decide to do with the grandmother, you do need to talk to your daughter, if not all your kids.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2006 at 10:45PM
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