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Alcoholism and Family Holiday Gatherings: Not a Good Mix for Most

Comments (2)
answered 03:57 PM EST, Mon December 19, 2011
dgoldstone dgoldstone Hollister
I'm hoping/praying that our family alcoholic won't ruin Christmas for our family by getting drunk and creating tension and stress.

She is in total denial and we do plan a family intervention soon after Christmas, but my concern is how to survive Christmas with the family.

I would appreciate any comments or suggestions. Thanks

Delisted Expert Says...

Dear Concerned Family Member:

Many families are concerned about how they are going to “weather” through the holidays from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. This time period is the peak time for alcoholics to relapse or drink more heavily than usual.

First, your family sounds like it needs immediate support and your family can find that in Al-Anon Family groups. Without knowing your location, I only can direct you to an Al-Anon meeting locator website at:

http://www.al-anon.org/meetings/meeting.html so you can find a meeting in your area. There are also online Al-Anon meetings as well. They can be found at: http://www.ola-is.org/groups/about/index.htm. These are not a substitute for meetings in the community.

Because you identified that the holidays can be marred by tension and stress, it would be great if your family and you could gain some support, learn about how alcoholism affects family members, and to begin to learn about recovery. This often occurs with families who do not have the coping skills or recovery tools to stay in relationship with an active alcoholic whether drinking or not. Alcoholics often feel the dual stress of the holidays and being with their families. How do they cope? By drinking until they feel satisfied, calm, or inebriated.

Do you have a treatment facility or provider ready for your sister’s treatment after the holidays? If so, it may have meetings for families early in recovery. If you look, you may be surprise how many resources for families of alcoholics there are.

From your information, I can see two main choices. One choice would be to spend time with your sister while she is actively drinking, without trying to control it, while “consciously” minimizing your time with her (based on your stress tolerance of her behavior). Secondly, another choice would be to limit or not include your sister and/or alcohol during your family time together. This would be a very difficult choice to make for most families. You have the right and the choice on how you spend your Christmas, with whom, and for how long. Family self-care strategies evolve as the family begins their own recovery which involves emotionally, no relationally, detaching from the alcoholic when in the disease of alcoholism. Al-Anon teaches this.

Often, when alcoholics get out of control it, is often because there is excessive availability of alcohol, enabling by the family, and/or there is too much unstructured time for the alcoholic to use to “act out” with alcohol. Could you consider having family time without alcohol and/or spending “limited time” with you alcoholic sister? Another choice would be to structure your time around specific activities or events which would make it more difficult for her to drink. However, be advised that she could always show up after drinking excessively. Essentially, alcoholics, and/or their drinking, often control their families. In recovery, the family has to learn to separate the alcoholic from the drinking. By the family making healthy choices about what they are willing and not willing to tolerate, how much time they are willing to spend around inappropriate/alcoholic behavior, considering first what they want or need not what the impaired family member wants, framing all their decisions and support on the basis of recovery principles which helps to model and encourage the alcoholic in her own recovery.

I hope your family and you can plan ways you can share the Holidays in a mutually enjoyable way. Remember, you have recovering families in your community who can relate and support you through difficult times with your sister. Best wishes and outcomes for your family and your sister! If you need anything else, please feel free to contact me.

John W. O’Neal, EdS, LPC, MSW, MA, NCC

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