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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Books that have helped me
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.