Do you remember the Saturday Night Live skit, “Drunk Uncle”? Bobby Moynihan plays a character on SNL’s Weekend Update that stumbles in, slurs his words, and makes obscene and outrageous remarks. His skits are usually based around holidays or other monumental days – Drunk Uncle on Christmas, Drunk Uncle on New Year’s, Drunk Uncle on Election Day.
SNL is known for poking fun at sensitive topics; things that everyone knows about; things that everyone needs to or is already talking about. “Drunk Uncle” is one of those topics.
Let me preface this by saying I had a drunk uncle. I say “had” because he died at 47 of Cirrhosis after years of chronic liver damage due to alcoholism. Fortunately, my memories of my Uncle James are primarily positive, and I recall only happy times spent with him, despite his addiction to alcohol. However, that’s not the case with the majority of Americans. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), one in every 12 adults suffer from alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence, along with several million more who engage in risky drinking patterns.
How many people are in your family and extended family? More than 12? There are in mine. The chances of having a family member or members dealing with alcoholism or alcohol dependency are staggering. That’s why SNL can joke about it, and that’s why we can talk about it.
While every family situation is different at the holidays, our advice boils down to four main tips on managing the family member who drinks too much at family gatherings:
- Don’t let them drive.Period. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 728 people will be injured or killed each day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day in drunk driving accidents, a rate two to three times higher than the rest of the year. Yes, someone who is abusing alcohol and drinking too much will get mad at you if you take their keys. People who don’t have a problem usually recognize when they’ve had one too many drinks – they’ll have someone pick them up, get a ride home, or plan to spend the night. Someone with an alcohol problem is the one that is going to fight you. By nature, alcoholics want to manage and control. They will get mad if you take their keys, but it’s selfish if you’re only worried about that fight. If you think about all the other people they could harm behind the wheel – it’s worth the argument. You’re not going to ruin Thanksgiving. While it may make them angry, it’s not going to kill anyone. Letting someone drive after drinking could kill someone.
- Don’t engage with the family member who is sloppy and angry. If your family member with a problem has been drinking, he’ll want to bring up the past, he’ll want to argue about all the ways that you wronged him. Maybe your brother wants to argue about how you were always mom’s favorite child and he never got anything. Don’t engage. Just agree with him and change the subject.
- Let him or her drink. Before you say, “WHAT!?” – hear us out. If you have an alcoholic in the family, the best advice is to take a preventative measure: don’t have alcohol at the house. Family has more power than they know. Have a dry Thanksgiving – we CAN have holidays without alcohol. If your family member does have an alcohol problem and you’re not providing the alcohol – he’ll leave. However, maybe you haven’t taken preventative steps and you do have alcohol at the Thanksgiving table. If your family member with a problem is drinking, let him continue because tonight isn’t the night to have that fight. Provide a safe place for your loved one by giving him the guest room and let him pass out. This step, however, doesn’t mean that you’re okay with the drinking problem, which brings us to the final step.
- You need an intervention. It’s time to admit that you or your loved one has a problem and that help is needed. An intervention dramatically increases the chance you will get someone into treatment. Did you know that Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year for our call center? This is because families are finally in a place where they can’t avoid the very obvious problems in front of them – and as a family they often make the right decision to call for help.
You need a plan. Vertava Health is open and we are taking calls 24/7/365. We’re here for you on the holidays to answer your questions, your worries and hopefully help you find peace.
Heed the advice and stay well.