Surviving Holiday Season: Drunk Relatives

By Cris Carl, Networx

Whether you are recovering from alcoholism or simply have been dealing with drunk relatives for a lifetime, the holiday season poses extra challenges. Susan Lederer, a licensed social worker with an office in Greenfield, MA, advises to “keep your expectations low.”

Lederer said that the onslaught of “happy families” that appear on holiday movies and specials tend to raise unrealistic expectations. “Everybody sees the holiday shows and longs for that fantasy family,” she said.

After speaking with several therapists, I found a consensus that avoiding your family holiday gathering is the simplest, most direct way to avoid confrontations with drunk relatives. However, many people feel compelled by the ritual and expectations of the holidays or simply feel obligated to attend family gatherings.

Douglas Grote, a drug and alcohol counselor in Greenfield, MA, said that it is important to be aware ahead of time if the point of the gathering is getting drunk. Lederer added, “You can also bring a friend or a sponsor if you are in recovery. It’s good having someone with you who understands, especially if you are trying to stay sober yourself.”

Lederer emphasized that keeping yourself safe is a top priority. A practical suggestion was, “It’s good to create parameters and limits. Only visit for a couple of hours, no matter how much they cajole you to stay longer.” Lederer added that it is good to let family members know in advance what your plans are.

Even if your family members are coming to visit you, Lederer suggests that limits can still be placed. “You can tell family members that you are having an ‘open house‘ between certain hours only,” she said.

If confronted by aggressive relatives, Douglas Grote suggested, “Just try to not get them too excited. I know it’s scary and frustrating. Engage, but don’t confront.”

Bunti Field, a counselor who has worked with people who have experienced domestic violence for the past 11 years, said she tells people if they are going to have to deal with drunk relatives to “use emotional tai chi – and hide the keys.”

Field said that “emotional tai chi” is the idea of not meeting aggressive energy with your own, but rather “stepping out of the way metaphysically…You don’t have to take their need for aggression. You choose whether to be a part of a bad situation or not,” she said.

Drug and alcohol counselor Michele DiLisio said, “It is helpful to strategize ahead of time. Have a couple of strategies. Make sure you have a back-up plan.” DiLisio also agreed that it is best to not play into antagonizing the person who is inebriated, especially if they are a parent. “You can always take a break; take a walk to defuse the situation,” she said.

For those who are in recovery, DiLisio recommends going to an AA meeting before or after the event. “And if you have to stay over, check ahead of time to see what meetings are in the area,” she said.

Everyone interviewed agreed that you don’t want to be fuel for an explosive situation. The bottom line is that planning ahead is the best thing you can do to protect yourself during the holiday season.

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Angela N.
Angela N6 years ago

Thank you :)

Anna Magdalena S.
Anna Szawkalo6 years ago

Very helpful, recalling th simple truth about this kind of gathering - you have no influence on others, but it is you who control your actions.

Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

my mom and her husband are avid wine drinkers. My mom more so than others... My uncle was a raving drunk, who would occasionally show up already drunk, and then would accept a mixed drink or two for cocktails, wine with supper, and after dinner drinks as well as Koniak with cigars that the guys participated in.

My mom would always get disgusted with him, even though she can polish off a good size bottle of wine herself in a day, because my uncle would get to the point of slurred speech, not being able to walk a straight line, and blubbering nonsense about something or everything. So, my son and I would have a plan, because he's only going on 12...

Since it's not like I can just eat and run from my mom's, she has a huge house anyway. So, I'd bring along his favorite movie or something, and then we'd go to the basement rec room to watch the movie there after they came in from cigars, until they left, just to avoid the awkward mess. Or, there's always the work excuse, since I work home care... I have an escape route when I need one.

Shan D.
Shan D6 years ago

Both my parents are alcoholics. I never saw my mother noticeably drunk, however. She did admit to me many years later that she'd been drinking during the years when she basically shut me out of her life (I was a teenager then, in high school). My father - you couldn't miss it. And the consequences caught up with him. He lost several good jobs due to drinking, lost his driver's license, and spent time in jail. The last time he was drunk was just after my grandmother (his mother) died. He had the gall to blame ME for his drinking. Well, I told him that I wasn't to blame, I didn't pour the stuff down his throat, I didn't hold a gun to his head - it was ALL HIS CHOICE. And then I locked him out of the house and told him he could come back when sober. A couple of days later I let him back, and he hasn't drunk since.

And now he's in a nursing home with dementia and doesn't remember drinking or smoking; he has no desire to do either one. Still, I've given strict orders to the staff that he is not to be exposed to, offered, or anywhere around people who are smoking or drinking. All it takes is once.

As for my mother... she's completely out of my life. And because of the way alcohol affected my family, I don't touch it. Ever. I'm scared I might like it and end up like my parents. And I love my cats too much to ever risk hurting them because I wasn't in my right mind.

Carolanne Powell
Carolanne Powell6 years ago

Stock up on non-alcoholic beveredges. There are plenty ranging from non- alcoholic wine/cider/beer/lager etc...And burn some relaxing esential oil of lavender in a burner to chill out the agro rellys!!

Kath R.
Kath P6 years ago

Let people know that they are not to bring any alcohol with them and you provide only a limited amount for each person. If a someone really wants to drink and not socialize they will probably leave when the booze runs out.

Joe R.
Joe R6 years ago

These relatives drive me to drink!

Nadu B.
Victoria B6 years ago

Another solution- when you invite family with alcoholics to your home, don't serve alcohol.
Yes, holidays without alcohol-how absurd.

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers6 years ago

I feel so grateful that we do not have to face ths particular problem, and so sorry for those who do.

Winn Adams
Winn A6 years ago

Thanks for the info.