Live with Someone who Drinks? How to Cope

Is someone's drinking affecting your life?  Are you worried because alcohol changes that person?  Is the drinking on-and-off but still affecting your life when it happens?  Here are some tips for you from someone who has been there. 

My story

I grew up in an alcoholic family. My uncle and aunt (my mom's brother and sister) were and still are unapologetic alcoholics. My uncle used to drive drunk with me in the car, has run into fences, and has made horrendous scenes at family gatherings. He disappeared for an hour at my cousin's graduation, and came back plastered. My grandparents cracked down on him after that episode, and are very watchful of him now (he lives in their house still). My aunt doesn't drink as much as she used to, but she used to have margarita parties every weekend in the summer when I was growing up. Her children (my cousins) started drinking quite young, and one of them has to watch her alcohol consumption very closely.

My mom only drinks one, maybe two, glasses of wine a month. Not much at all. Yet, I still consider her an alcoholic. She goes into fits a lot over simple, inconsequential things. She gets mad at people, to the point of crying and screaming, when they do something that is even mildly against her way of thinking. These are traits of alcoholics. 

Two kinds of alcoholics

My uncle and aunt fit into the category of "active alcoholic".  They are actively drinking, and it changes their behavior to the point where it affects those around them.

My mom fits into the category of "dry drunk" or "passive alcoholic".  She does not go over her limit of alcohol, yet still exhibits the behaviors associated with many alcoholics.  Even if someone has never had a drink in their life, they can fit in this category. 

Evaluating your circumstances

Which category does your family member fit into? Up to two drinks a day is considered "normal", if the person is responsible about it and does not let it affect others around them. Is the person abusive when he/she has been drinking? Do you fear for his/her safety? Does he/she experience memory loss or hangovers? If a "passive alcoholic", does he/she exhibit other compulsive attitudes and/or actions, such as excessive food consumption, control issues, shopping addictions, retreating into his/herself for long periods of time, or nicotine addictions?

If you answered yes to any of these, then the person's behaviors are affecting you. This is the time to get help. 

What won't help

Here are some things that will not help.

  1. Confronting the person after they come home. His/her brain literally cannot make sense of what you are trying to say, and he/she will get confused and lash out at you and at others.
  2. Making character judgements. When you do talk with the person next, after he/she is sober, never make it about him/her. Try to make "I" statements based on how you feel, rather than "You" statements about how he/she acted.
  3. Threaten to leave him/her or punish him/her in any way for his/her behavior. Doing this will make he/she feel guilty, and out the door he/she will go for another drink to drown the feelings of insecurity. 

What will help

Here are some things you can do that will help.  These are all suggestions for you, because ultimately you are the only one that you can help.  The other person will only change if he/she wants to for him/herself, not change for you.

  1. Remember that only you can control your thoughts, feelings, and actions.  The other person is not in charge of how you feel, and you are not in charge of how they feel.
  2. Keep the lines of communication open.  If you are not in any physical danger, keep talking and listening to the other person.  Try to find out the root causes of things that bug him/her.  Use "I" statements to tell the other person how you feel about their actions.  Let the other person tell you how he/she feels about things.
  3. Check out a confidential Al-Anon or Alateen program.  See the grey box for the links.  If the other person is open to it, suggest politely that he/she check out an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting.  Even if he/she does not go to an AA meeting, you can still go to an Al-Anon or Alateen meeting.
  4. Ask your doctor for advice.  Even though you are not the one drinking, your doctor may have good advice for you.  Be open with them on how this is affecting you, and any physical ailments (migraines, anxiety, etc.) that may be caused by it.
  5. Talk to others.  Al-Anon groups help with this, but there are other people you can talk with, too.  Friends, other family members, and others with shared experiences all can help you. 

I have included some Al-Anon resources in book form in this hub as well, that have helped me and are still helping me. The process can take weeks to years, but it will help you gain your self-worth and your life back. Living with an alcoholic can take its toll on your life, but only if you let it. I leave you with the Serenity Prayer, a staple of Al-Anon meetings. "God", in this prayer, is whatever you consider to be a higher power, whether that be within or outside yourself.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. 

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Comments 17 comments

anne.moss profile image

anne.moss 7 years ago from Israel

Good hub - inspirational and helpful at the same time. The serenity prayer is my favorite quote - so true for so many situations


mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 7 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

Great Hub and loads of useful advice and information Thanks :)


seamist profile image

seamist 7 years ago from Northern Minnesota

Great hub, KT!


KT pdx profile image

KT pdx 7 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA Author

Thanks, everyone. Glad you find it useful. :)


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

Excellent advice, KTpdx. Very helpful and you know it's needed by sooo many people out there!

One thing I would suggest for anyone living with an alcoholic (active, dry drunk, passive or even in recovery) is to go to AA meetings also in addition to Al-Anon. AA is where you really, really learn about the disease and how alkies think. In my experience, it's as helpful as Al-Anon.

Thanks, too, for including the serenity praryer.


KT pdx profile image

KT pdx 7 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA Author

Good additional advice, MM.  I'm fortunate that there's people in the Al-Anon group I went to that were in both, and shared from the AA group as well.  You're right, it is very helpful to see how they think.


Carly Fredricks profile image

Carly Fredricks 7 years ago

Very good advice. You are so right about not confronting the person when he/she is drunk. The alcoholic does not realize or care that they are putting stressful responsibility on the people that carefor them. It's like taking care of an overgrown, emotionally distraught baby- picking them up off of the floor, trying to keep them out of danger, crying spells, lashing out.... etc. Sometimes the caring for someone doesn't do any good, and sometimes you just have to walk away.


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

It's a sticky wicket dealing with an alcoholic in your home. People see the infantile behavior but many people do not realize alcoholisim is a disease. If you were caring for someone with cancer would you have more compassion?

The very best thing anyone can do for a loved one with alcoholism is to recognize it is bigger than you. You are not qualified to manage or cure it. Your loved one is not qualified to manage or cure it without help.

Get yourself to AA and Al-Anon and learn what you are up against and get real help from the people who are experts in this family disease!


pgrundy 7 years ago

This is so well written. It was really helpful reading through it, even though I'm a long way away from all this today. It is still applicable in so many situations in life, even when alcohol is not involved. Plus, people who grew up in alcoholic families so easily fall into patterns of enabling and codependence. I know I still struggle with this. And often, a person can have both problems. I think that's pretty common actually. Support and education works, going it alone, not so much. Thank you for this excellent hub.


missm 7 years ago

Good piece, thanks for sharing...I'm living with an alcoholic and it's killing me. I'll keep trying to do my best while not dying in this attempt...


KT pdx profile image

KT pdx 7 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA Author

Thanks for stopping by, missm. I hope that you can go to an Al-Anon meeting in your area, too, because that would really help considerably. Others here on HubPages (like MightyMom) have more information as well.


maryladd profile image

maryladd 7 years ago

this article is so good thank you


RethinkRehab 5 years ago

Living with someone who suffers from an addiction can definitely be a challenge (as some of us may know). The key is to not be the enabler and stay strong. It is not worth having your life and emotions affected if the individual does not want to seek help. Another alternative, is to seek help for yourself, many believe that addiction is only for individuals with a chemical dependency; however, that is not necessarily the case. Some rehab centers such as A Home Away Retreat (www.ahomeaway.org) offer treatment to anyone who has any type of factor causing them unhappiness, stress, or problems. This will also give you the strength, abilities, and tools to be able to properly deal with an alcoholic. I have personally lived with an addict (who got treatment and is now 4 yeas sober) and I have also gone through treatment myself (not for any addiction) to renew and heal my mind, body, and soul. I believe that such treatment is very essential to recovery of all parties affected by the addiction. Has anyone else gone through this type of treatment? What are your thoughts?


doll 5 years ago

how do you 'deal' w' someone who constantly denies they have a problem? My husband embarrasses me consistently- i also don't respond well to his inebriated threats and have no fear when it comes to personal self defense. We will be married for 4 years this summer; i would hope to be married for many years to come-however if he does not help himself; it is not my job to babysit him no?


KT pdx profile image

KT pdx 5 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA Author

Thank you for stopping by! Even if the person denies they have a problem, you can help yourself by going to an Al-Anon group. Links to Al-Anon group meetings are listed in the grey box above. This is a group for spouses and other family members of alcoholics, where you will hear what others have been doing to cope and be able to share some of what you are experiencing (if you want to share). It is all free and confidential.

You're correct; it is not your job to babysit him, so it's your choice whether to stay or leave at any point. You always have that choice.


fee 4 years ago

i get verbal abuse i got o where to live ad got a 16rold son i my mind all over the place i want out but still lov him had this 4 2years any comment


KT pdx profile image

KT pdx 4 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA Author

Hello, Fee, thanks for stopping by and commenting! If you go to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website at http://www.thehotline.org/ or call them at 1-800-799-SAFE, they can give you information on where you and your son can go and help you evaluate how to get out safely. Even though you love him, you have to think about your own safety and the safety of your son. Loving someone and being with them are two different things. You can still love someone without being with them.

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