How do I convince my mom I'm not an alcoholic?
November 3, 2004 5:36 PM   Subscribe

How do I convince my mom I'm not an alcoholic? Due to two close relatives (whom I have seen perhaps twice in my life) she is convinced that all males in the family are alcoholic. Now that I am college, I occasionally receive calls at my house number, asking to meet them at the bar -- or pick up some beer for a party. I then get a phone call and get yelled at for an hour. I enjoy beer and wine, but I do not enjoy drink in excess. Even as a college-goer I usually average perhaps two or three beers max, way below the average of my peers. I also have never been in trouble with alcohol. "Ignore her" is becoming more difficult. I realize I've been avoiding family functions and generally seeing her because I dread the "Yeah I went out with some friends..." with another cousin or someone mentioning fondly the fun parties they had which leads to her carping. She's given me a pretty strict edict of "no drinking, or you're dead to me", and "all it takes is one drink, and you're a loser." Honestly, besides that she is sane and level-headed.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total)
This is a tough one, but you've got to ask her what behaviors she dislikes about you when you drink. Surely it's not the swallowing of liquid that bothers her, but some result thereof. If she can't come up with anything, then you've made a point. If she does come up with specifics, at least you have ground rules you can work within.

Some temperance folk are absolutist about it. They don't distinguish betwen people who use alcohol and those who abuse it. You might want to acquaint her with the term "straightedge."

It also helps if you can demonstrate that you're able to go without alcohol. If you can't prove that, maybe you are an alcoholic, after all.
posted by scarabic at 5:40 PM on November 3, 2004

I would ask her why it is she thinks you're an alcoholic, when you demonstrate none of the characteristics of one (assuming you don't) - arm yourself with facts (and you'd better be sure that you don't have any symptoms). And then perhaps thank her for her love and concern, but explain the amount of drinking you do, your care and responsibility about it, and ask her to please relax until she sees some actual signs that you have an addiction issue, which you will do your best to ensure she never does. I would also agree not to drink around her if it makes her uncomfortable, but explain that you fully intend to continue your responsible, moderate drinking elsewhere. And keep it moderate and responsible.
posted by biscotti at 5:58 PM on November 3, 2004

Tell her to mind her own business.
posted by rushmc at 6:43 PM on November 3, 2004

My gut feeling -- what you describe pushes my buttons -- is that this is a control issue, and that the best way to deal with this is to call her bluff (viz., "Fine. I'm dead to you.") or to find some other way -- gently or confrontationally, so long as it's effective -- of letting her know that she must drop the subject. You're on the defensive here, and you don't need to be: from what you say, you don't have anything to apologize for. You need, in other words, to stop being defensive about it and argue from a position of strength. The issue is not about demonstrating your responsibility (which focuses on her approval of your actions) but her inappropriate behaviour.

I'm a hardliner about this sort of thing. I don't like it when I see parents emotionally manipulate, guilt-trip or otherwise boss around their adult children. (It's rarely easy for the children to defend themselves without feeling like utter shits in the process, which is, of course, why it works.)
posted by mcwetboy at 6:48 PM on November 3, 2004

I'm going to make the obligatory suggestion that you seek family counseling. I think your mom has trust issues, as well as some possible lingering issues resulting from interactions with these other two alcoholics.
It would probably be beneficial if the two of you went together, since she'll see that you're taking her concerns seriously and want to arm yourself against alcoholism with all of the tools at your disposal (but still lead a normal life)
posted by nprigoda at 6:48 PM on November 3, 2004

Tell her to get therapy. This is her problem, not yours.
posted by bshort at 6:52 PM on November 3, 2004

Your mom needs therapy. Seriously, she needs it and you should tell her to see a therapist. Tell her you'll go with her for the second sesson after she goes alone, or offer to go with her to the first two or three if she wants. If you are not worried you are al alcoholic, then join her just to get her there. She needs your help, and you need the help of a professional.

posted by pwb503 at 6:56 PM on November 3, 2004

Uh, hello, alcoholism can be genetic......her fears are not totally groundless.

My question to you is-is she ponying up money for school for you? If so, she does have some say in your behavior.

Anyway, I say all this as A. a mom, and B. a former college drinker who had an alcoholic grandmother.
posted by konolia at 9:19 PM on November 3, 2004

You do have a drinking problem: you don't drink enough.

Seriously, though, you're an adult. Ask your mom for specific concerns of hers, refute them, and move on. Probably shouldn't do that in between shots, though, talk to her before heading to the bar.
posted by cmonkey at 9:32 PM on November 3, 2004

I'm a hardliner about this sort of thing. I don't like it when I see parents emotionally manipulate, guilt-trip or otherwise boss around their adult children.

Hear, hear.
posted by rushmc at 11:01 PM on November 3, 2004

it's really tough for me to give advice on this, when I'm personally being manipulated by my own mother, however...

Be who you are, if your mother can't accept it, have a funeral, invite her, let her know that you're Okay with being dead to her, then get on with your life. She'll either get over it and remain your mother, or I'll adopt you.
posted by kamylyon at 11:32 PM on November 3, 2004

btw: that wasn't a wisecrack, I'm serious, have a funeral, let her see how it will be for you to be dead to her.
posted by kamylyon at 11:33 PM on November 3, 2004

Well, you could go straight to the source:

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fourth Edition, aka the DSM IV, the official manual, published by the American Psychological Association, used in the diagnosis of mental disease. The entry for alchohol dependence has this to say:

Criteria for Substance Dependence

A maladaptive pattern of substance use, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by three (or more) of the following, occurring at any time in the same 12-month period:

(1) tolerance, as defined by either of the following:
(a) a need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve Intoxication or desired effect
(b) markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance

(2) Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:
(a) the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance (refer to Criteria A and B of the criteria sets for Withdrawal from the specific substances)
(b) the same (or a closely related) substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms

(3) the substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended

(4) there is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use

(5) a great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance (e.g., visiting multiple doctors or driving long distances), use the substance (e.g., chain-smoking), or recover from its effects

(6) important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of substance use

(7) the substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance (e.g., current cocaine use despite recognition of cocaine-induced depression, or continued drinking despite recognition that an ulcer was made worse by alcohol consumption)

That certainly doesn't sound like you.
posted by ChasFile at 12:03 AM on November 4, 2004

The only way to really combat accusations of alcoholism -- and I've been painted with that brush many times, more in my youth than in the last decade or so -- is to succeed, in all aspects of your life, beyond the expectations of those around you.

If you are not actually a 'problem drinker' and you do this, the epithets of those who would pigeonhole you begin to sound pretty hollow eventually, even in their own ears.

Not that alcoholics can't succeed, of course, but that's a whole other thing.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:05 AM on November 4, 2004

Okay, so you're in college. You have free access to counsellors. Counsellors that can diagnose whether you have a drinking problem or not. See one. Get the official "Not Insane" sheet, and now you can mail a copy to mom. Problem solved.
posted by shepd at 2:06 AM on November 4, 2004

"Tell her to mind her own business."

Its his (or her) mom Rushmc, I assume you love your mom?

I know moms (an all ladies but I apologize beforehand) are crazy, but it's your duty to tell her that, yes, even if she is insane, you are her child and love her and there is nothing to worry about. From what you have written she comes off as a lady who has been hurt in the past, if you catch my drift. Do a few things for her and let her know you are there for her as cheesy as that sounds. Stavros the Wonder chicken has excellent advice, and as a post hard drinker, please take his advice into your consideration. Sir or ma'am, your life is short as mine. Be amazing in your ventures.
posted by Keyser Soze at 3:01 AM on November 4, 2004

I'm a hardliner about this sort of thing. I don't like it when I see parents emotionally manipulate, guilt-trip or otherwise boss around their adult children.

I'm with rushmc - this is good material. Forcing your parents to treat you like an adult is one of the keys to having a decent relationship with them, IMO.

Also, read what konolia said. This attitude revolts me, but it is common. If your mom is ponying up for the college costs, find a way to get out from under that. Drop out for 2 years to travel, work, whatever. Make sure she stops claiming you as an independent on her taxes - get an attorney if you have to. Meet the requirements to be declared independent by the school of your choice.

Do whatever it takes to no longer be dependent on her financially, and then you can force her to deal with you as an emotional equal, not her "little boy".
posted by Irontom at 4:57 AM on November 4, 2004

"Even as a college-goer I usually average perhaps two or three beers max, way below the average of my peers."

2 or 3 a day? Week? Hour?

2 or 3 beers a day means nearly a case a week, but despite my thoughts it was a wee bit high, may actually be defined as moderate drinking, defined as no more than one drink a day for most women, and no more than two drinks a day for most men.
posted by jpburns at 5:07 AM on November 4, 2004

as a child of two alcoholics, I can understand your mom's reaction. (to a point)

I don't drink, and never go to bars or other situations where people will be drinking (friends at dinner drinking wine is fine - it is the drinking to drink situations I can't handle). It is very difficult for me to separate their behavior and my mother's. I know they aren't her and all, but the smell of alcohol just has an adverse affect on me.

That said, if I had a kid I'd be paranoid as hell they could become an alcoholic. One thing I learned is there are different types. Some touch alcohol once and they're hooked, while others it is after repeated use that they have a problem. Esp. when we don't know enough about how genetics plays a role.

So I can understand your mom freaking out. She's genuinely concerned about you and that you may end up like them. I somewhat agree that this is a control issue -- she can't control alcoholism and when it will rear its ugly head and she is scared. She wants to protect you.

But she needs to check this and not take it out on you. I agree that you need to sit down with her and explain that you want to talk about this calmly, rationally (don't use those words though!). That you understand her concerns, but that you need to live your own life and that you two can come to some agreement/arrangement.

Explain that it is not helpful for you to hear this all the time, that it hurts and makes you want to rebel even more (maybe hearing that her yelling makes it worse will help her understand to keep it in check?).

Counselling might be a good thing, too, as others have suggested. Esp. if the above doesn't work. I've worked very hard at keeping my feelings about alcohol in check so I think I could talk about it rationally. But if I hadn't done that then I might not be able to right off the bat. So your mom may need some outside help in staying calm and putting it in perspective.

Feel free to email me if you want more on "her" perspective.
posted by evening at 5:07 AM on November 4, 2004

Meet your mom partway - sit down with her and seriously discuss the dangers of alcohol. Really listen, and make sure she knows you understand the message. Then ask her to listen to what a barrier to a good relationship is created by her focus on alcohol and you. Explain that you love being with her, but her obsession creates a barrier.

PWB's advice to go to a counselor with her is good, too. I have an alcoholic parent, and I've reviewed my drinking with someone, just to be cautious.

Get caller id or *call-back service. If she continues to call and dishonestly harrass you, get call-blocking. Every single time you are with her and she brings up alcohol, leave. Calmly and quietly, but leave. An hour of bitching by phone - no way, tell her to stop, and if she doesn't, say goodbye and then hang up.

Don't tolerate the behavior that is manipulative, disrespectful and dishonest, or you will be stuck with it. Reward her with love and attention when she treats you normally. She'll be your mom for a long time. It's nicer to have a healthy relationship.
posted by theora55 at 6:44 AM on November 4, 2004

My experience is roughly the same as evening's. I just barely drink, have close family members who are mostly-functional alcoholics, and grew up in a world where everyone's relationship to alcohol was secret, problematic, and supposed to be not my business except when it became my business through their bad behvior which was sometimes apalling and quickly swept under the rug. It sucks having to deal with alcoholics who have some sort of power relationship to you, though I'm sure it's also rough to be an alcoholic. I sympathize with you because I feel I know this problem from both sides.

I'm a very uptight drinker, am often uncomfortable in social situations where other people are drinking heavily, and have weird issues with my boyfriend when I think he is drinking "too much" which I KNOW ARE WEIRD. We've worked out a system where basically if I think he's been drinking too much [happens maybe once a year, twice?] we'll talk about it and usually he'll make sure to not drink at all for a day or two. This "re-centers" my anxiety and gets me back in line with reality where most people who drink aren't alcoholics, are not married to drinking and won't throw over a relationship with me just to have one more beer. Other times we'll talk about it and the agreement is that I need to suck it up, that's okay too, there's give and take. My sister is just totally sober and just dates alcoholics a lot, it's a weird cycle. It's easy to think that all you need [or your Mom needs] is for you to be able to dictate their behavior and you'll feel okay. However, as others have said better, that's just not something you get to do with other people in most cases. It's controlling, doesn't address the problem and makes you complicit in the whole alcohol boogeyman thing. Dealing with this with parents is often extra tough because it's hard to separate what are weird parent issues from what are weird alcohol issues. Your Mom likely has empty nest issues she's dealing with badly as well as this one.

Basically I feel that even if you WERE an alcoholic, your Mom is behaving badly. This is, of course, not the tack you want to take with her, but calling you at school and yelling at you because you might have a few beers is unacceptable and inappropriate. If you do not live with her and are not making whatever drinking you are involved in her problem, then her worrying about what you might be doing and pestering you about it is just not okay. My advice, for what it's worth, is to try a balance of things

- tell your friends to not call you at home to avoid antagonizing your Mom
- tell her that while you appreciate her concern, you are not an alcoholic [as evidenced by whatever actual measures you have taken which indicate that - see "alcohol dependence" above] but alcoholism in a family affects everyone and maybe she should look into ACOA or Al-anon both of which are for non-alcoholics with problems with alcohol, if that makes sense.
- do not have phone conversations with her that involve her giving you a hard time about this, and be firm "mom, I've explained my position to you, we are not going to belabor this, call me when you want to talk about something else"
- similar at events. let her know that you're not ignoring her, but that she has nothing new to say and you are not interested in talking to her that way. encourage better interactions, be positive when she's not giving you hell for drinking, or thinking about drinking.
- ask for concrete realistic advice about you drinking around her that might make her a little calmer, solicit her opinions but let her know that "one drink and you're dead" is not going to work and that she will carve you out of her life that way. If she wants to think you are a loser, she is welcome to but she is not allowed to treat you like a loser and have you put up with it. Solicit other family members if this helps.

See this thread for more information on dealing with haranguing Moms which is part of what you're dealing with in addition to the alcohol problem. Moms with kids fresh out of the house have a hard time learning how to deal with the fact that you don't live there anymore.
posted by jessamyn at 6:49 AM on November 4, 2004

I second jessamyn's suggestion about Al-anon. Find a local meeting and urge her to go. Even better, go with your mom to a meeting. You both have family members who are alcoholics, right?
posted by jasper411 at 9:09 AM on November 4, 2004

Its his (or her) mom Rushmc, I assume you love your mom?

Loving someone does not mean that one should allow them to bully and manipulate you. That is an abuse, pure and simple.
posted by rushmc at 9:29 AM on November 4, 2004

Keyser Soze continues to impress me. (no email m'dear?)
posted by dash_slot- at 9:33 AM on November 4, 2004

"If I'm dead to you, why are you still talking to me?"

It doesn't have to get any more complicated than that. Her love for you obviously isn't unconditional; maybe you should consider whether she really deserves for you to be all the way at the other end of the spectrum.
posted by bingo at 7:20 PM on November 4, 2004

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