Holidays are meant to be a light and joyous time of year but they can often become stressful when dealing with difficult family members. Because alcohol (and drugs) are often used as a coping mechanism, family gatherings can quickly turn into a place of conflict between loved ones. So how do you deal with a drunk uncle, intoxicated parent, or a smashed sibling? Here are 7 powerful techniques to help you get through.
1. Set boundaries and stick to them.
Don’t defend yourself regarding your decisions. If you’re planning a holiday gathering and you’re concerned that an alcoholic family member may cause a scene, it’s important to discuss this with them beforehand. Let them know how much you love and care about them and you want them to come, but you don’t want them to drink alcohol while they’re visiting.
In more extreme cases, you may need to emphasize being on time and dressing appropriately. It may be difficult to tell a loved one that they can’t come to a holiday gathering due to their alcoholism if they don’t want to comply with the boundaries you’ve set. However, being too lenient or allowing them to drink at the gathering is only enabling them and can potentially ruin the holiday fun for everyone.
2. Don’t treat them like an “alcoholic”.
If you have an alcoholic family member in attendance at your holiday gathering, act natural. Do not treat them like an outcast – this will exacerbate the problem and make other guests uncomfortable. Additionally, if your loved one has arrived and is honoring your request not to drink, then you should show your support and avoid drinking around them. This is supportive and encouraging. It will also keep them from feeling tempted.
3. Enlist “buffers.”
Most people’s behavior improves when outsiders are present. If you can count on your family member to be on their best behavior for company, invite someone. (If not, then don’t risk it!). There are always people who would love a place to go on the holidays. Having a new face at the table can help to keep your alcoholic relative accountable.
4. Ask for backup.
Most likely, you are not the only one who is affected by your alcoholic loved one’s behavior. Think about who you can count on to help back you up. Then come up with a strategy as to how you will approach the situation. Set up a signal you’ll use to communicate with each other if necessary. Again, this is not to be used to gang up on them or make them feel bad, but rather a way to steer the individual’s potential troublesome behavior in a different direction.
5. Give your loved one an assignment.
Everyone has strengths. Figure out what your loved one is good at and ask them to help. Do they enjoy assisting in the kitchen? Maybe they like telling stories or working on crafts? Whatever it may be, find out what it is and make sure it is something meaningful and not just busy work. This will ensure they have a place to shine.
6. Take charge of seating arrangements and guide the conversation in a positive direction.
Put people who don’t get along with him/her as far away as possible and sit them right next to you or one of your helpers so that you can diffuse inappropriate conversation topics as soon as they start.
7. Manage your expectations and don’t take it personal.
Realize it’s not your responsibility and it’s not your fault. If things get out of hand, especially where alcohol or weapons are involved (sadly yes, weapons), don’t ever hesitate to call the police. Remember that just because you are family does not mean you are safe – we are only safe (emotionally, physically, psychologically) when we either avoid or control those individuals or situations that would do us harm.
For more information on helping a loved one with a drug or alcohol problem, visit our Recovery Services & Resources page.