By Sandra Levy Ceren
Q: My sister has shared something with me, which upsets both of us, especially since our parents were alcoholic and died in a car accident while drunk.
She and her friendly neighbors get together once a week to play games at each other's homes. It is their way of bonding. They discuss personal issues freely. She finds the group supportive. One of the women recently moved a distance away, but she continues to attend these get-togethers. The hostess provides refreshments, usually iced tea, soft drinks, chips and dips. The woman who moved away still attends and provides her own wine and cheese, usually a bottle or two. Most of these women are not big on alcohol.
My sister is concerned because this woman must drive herself home after she has consumed a complete bottle all by herself. Her friends offer to drive her, but she refuses.
These women share many personal facts about themselves and their families and they are aware of the alcohol related accidental death of our parents. My sister has mentioned it many times in front of the woman who drinks, but it has made no impression on her. This woman is the mother of three young children who are dependent upon her. She is well educated and should know better than to drink and drive. She always insists she is sober and isn't an alcoholic, but that she loves wine and will not give it up under any circumstance. This infuriates my sister who has repeated many times how bad it is for children of alcoholics. What more can this group of women do?
A: Like many people who have substance abuse problems, this woman appears to be in a state of denial, which prevents her from directly dealing with her problem. For her to change, something drastic must occur. Perhaps your sister and her friends can shake her up since it is a supportive, friendly group. They can begin by telling her of their concern for her and her family in her lack of acting responsibly with regard to drinking and driving. Your sister can reiterate what your parents and their denial of their alcoholism did to your family.
I strongly urge this group of women to prepare and rehearse for an intervention with their friend using the following recommendations:
Each woman in the group could make a statement that out of deep concern and care for her and her children, they have unanimously agreed that they will not allow her to bring alcohol into their homes. They also want to make certain that she is addressing the problem either with Alcoholics Anonymous or a professional specialist in substance abuse. Your sister as a personally knowledgeable member of the group could offer to attend a few AA meetings with her. Important informative materials can be provided at an AA meeting or online.
It should be reiterated that her friends are taking this measure because they care deeply about her and her children. Each member of the group can ask her one of these questions:
- Do you crave alcohol and are not able to control your drinking, even when you want to?
- Do you have nausea, sweating, or anxiety when you cut back or stop drinking?
- Do you drink more alcohol to feel the same effects?
- Do you ignore the signs and maintain that you don't have a problem?
- Are your friends or family members worried about your drinking?
- Do you sometimes experience blackouts?
- Do you hide your drinking or hide how much you drink?
- Are you uncomfortable in social situations when alcohol is not served?
- Do you experience anxiety and/or depression?
Your sister and her friends should also offer this woman important health information. Even though she may not appear receptive, the information must be given to her.
Each should individually tell her what they have learned about the effects of long-term heavy drinking, such as it damages the liver, nervous system, heart, and brain and contributes to high blood pressure, stomach problems, and has bad interactions with medicine, causes sexual problems, osteoporosis, and cancer. One statement from each go-around can be repeated. She needs to hear these things several times, including that drinking during pregnancy increases the risk of developmental problems in an unborn baby. Alcohol abuse may lead to violence, accidents and social isolation.
Each person should conclude with the statement that none are these conditions are worth the consequences of drinking.
The atmosphere should be a nurturing, caring and informative, while she is confronted.
The program needs to be rehearsed a few times for each member of the group to feel comfortable with it and hopefully the substance abuser will be able to feel the concern and warmth of their dedicated friendship and make the important change.
Dr. Ceren is a long time local psychologist specializing in enhancing relationships with self and others. To query: