Should I talk to my parents about their drinking?
June 26, 2010 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Should I talk to my parents about their drinking?

Just returned from a visit to my parents, who are in their early 60s. They are both retired and it seems that their primary activity is drinking. The sheer volume is staggering. The volume consumed has ramped up over the last 5-10 years - they certainly did not drink this much when I was a kid.

On the surface, this is none of my business. I talk to them on the phone once a week for 10 minutes, and see them maybe twice a year for a few days, so this has no impact on my daily life. They are financially stable adults, and if they choose to drink, so be it. That said, I am concerned about the impact on their health. They are aging before their time, and my sister and I will certainly be impacted, emotionally and probably financially, from the health issues stemming from alcohol use. Also, because of their alcohol use, I am not inclined to spend my vacation time and money visiting, so they won't get to see their 3 year old granddaughter as much. (They do fly out to visit us but they don't drink as much here as they do at home.)

Is it worth bringing up the subject on the next phone call? My only goal in talking to them about it would be to say that I've noticed and am concerned. I have no interest in forcing any behaviour change. Does such a statement ever have an impact on people that drink? Am I just provoking a fight unnecessarily?
posted by crazycanuck to Human Relations (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is it worth bringing up the subject on the next phone call?

Yes. You love them and you are concerned. But do some reseach on how these things go first. This usually doesn't go smoothly. People obviouly become defensive, feel criticised, and, and can be in deep denial.

My advice is do it, but be prepared for things to become rocky (even if only for you) when you do.
posted by marimeko at 8:52 AM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do they have any hobbies? Do they travel together? Common interests? They might be bored out of their minds. Perhaps you should suggest they take up something other than highballs for togetherness.
posted by dortmunder at 9:22 AM on June 26, 2010

I think you should talk to them, and let you know that not only do you care, but you're worried. I would try to do it in person, if possible - it's way easier to blow off a person who will go away once you hang up.

I would NOT frame it as a "financial" impact on you, and I would only point out that you are less inclined to bring their granddaughter to them as a last resort. Here's my advice on the order of battle:

1. I noticed you guys have been drinking a lot
2. I think it's bad for you
3. [[ insert alcohol/health statistics here ]]
4. I want my granddaughter to have a long time with their grandparents
5. I don't want my granddaughter to see you drunk all the time
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:25 AM on June 26, 2010

Unless you are going to do a full on intervention, then I would say no.
posted by Flood at 9:26 AM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite] daughter, of course. And you'll probably want to be a little more tactful than that. But not much.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:26 AM on June 26, 2010

First, have you discussed this with your sister? You might talk to her, and any other involved or relevant people, to feel out the situation first. Try to get everyone on the same page, so you do not become a family pariah, if possible. (been there, done that)

Second, even if no one in the family agrees with you, it may become necessary to talk to them. Do your research about the emotional and health effects, so you are talking to them from a sound position.

Good luck!
posted by annsunny at 9:27 AM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is it worth bringing up the subject on the next phone call? My only goal in talking to them about it would be to say that I've noticed and am concerned. I have no interest in forcing any behaviour change.

The key question then is what the purpose of raising the subject would be. If the aim of raising it is not to bring about a change in their behaviour, then what is the point of having the discussion? I'd agree with marimeko that it's likely to have at least some consequences - which is not a reason not to raise it, necessarily, but it might be worth having in mind what a desirable result would be for you. Even if that's just knowing that you have at least told them what the impact of their drinking is on you.
posted by poetical at 9:33 AM on June 26, 2010

I'm curious, since you didn't say anything about their behavior. Are they drunken, or did you just notice that they drink a lot?
posted by wondermouse at 9:40 AM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you want to say something to clear your own conscience, then of course you should.

If you want to say something with the expectation that they'll say, "My heavens; you're right! We shall stop immediately!", recalibrate those expectations.
posted by dzaz at 9:48 AM on June 26, 2010

Best answer: I want to add:

I completely agree that this should be in person (even if that means waiting for a few months for that to happen) - via Salvor Hardin.

And - this is an intervention. Even if it's just a conversation you have with just your mom or just your dad. Any time a person is approached about thier addiction, it's an intervention.

It's tough. No one wants to hear it - and, likely, they are going to come back with: "We are old and we will do what we want from this point forward" kind of thing. People at every stage of life have an excuse: I'm only 22, I'm young, this is how young people behave.." etc, etc.

Don't fall for it.

If you really want to get involved (and that's what I meant about it being "rocky" even if only for you) then, be all in.

If you're not "all in" don't bother. It's serious when people slide down a rabbit hole. Determine if you are up to it, and (yes) definitley talk to your your sister.
posted by marimeko at 9:49 AM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

If it will make you feel better to say something, then by all means, say it. If you are expecting them to change their behavior based upon the conversation, you will probably be disappointed.
posted by something something at 9:54 AM on June 26, 2010

Or, upon review, exactly what dzaz said. Sorry about that.
posted by something something at 9:57 AM on June 26, 2010

How much do they drink? People have different tolerance levels - not only to alcohol but also to other people drinking alcohol.

(Sharing a bottle of wine and becoming a bit tipsy is completely normal behavior for some and totally shocking for others.)
posted by sour cream at 10:13 AM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

n-thing discussing this in person. If you're not physically present, the conversation isn't real, just a temporary annoyance. You may not get much more than some more attention to / awareness on their parts of their consumption, during visits to one-another (if even that), that's even that's worth something.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 10:13 AM on June 26, 2010

I want to throw out the possibility of beanplating. Is there a chance you are looking at

"Wow, you guys are drinking a lot now. You know that, right?"
"Really? Hmm!"
"I just don't want you ending up all, you know, fat and homeless and stuff."
"Actually, maybe we are spending too much money on wine."

posted by kmennie at 10:21 AM on June 26, 2010

Do they drive while under the influence? Can you ask them about that?
posted by marsha56 at 10:32 AM on June 26, 2010

Your parents are grown-up, they're responsible for their own lives. I would say leave them alone.

You haven't told us what constitutes "staggering volume". In my experience (growing up in Ireland), normal drinking habits of many of my compatriots would have been considered staggering volume by my US friends. I mean you can find folks here (in the US) who think drinking more then once a week means you must be an alcoholic. So I have no idea where you fall on that spectrum. Staggering volume to me would a liter of spirits per day, YMMV.

I would only act if their behavior due to alcohol was a problem. Are the getting rolling around drunk and making public fools of themselves, starting fights, getting arrested etc. If not, then I really don't see that its any business of yours.
posted by Long Way To Go at 10:48 AM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

It depends on how much they are drinking. When parents of a friend of mine retired, they would easily down 3 bottles of wine between them a NIGHT. When his dad came to visit once for a long weekend, he took the following items out of the trunk of the car:

1) A small suitcase
2) A gallon of OJ
3) A new 1/2 gallon of vodka

He made his worries known to his parents, multiple times. He showed them a chart like this one. It still took 5-7 years before his parents dried out, without outside intervention or help. His mom got sober first, and his dad finally got sober after his mom threatened to divorce him (and actually moved out and in with my friend for awhile.)
posted by jeanmari at 11:33 AM on June 26, 2010

Whatever you do, don't discuss it once they have started drinking for the day. Breakfast or lunch the next day is a better time.
posted by gjc at 4:01 PM on June 26, 2010

Wow. I would totally say something to them. I have friends hassling their parents about quitting smoking. It's all done with love, and with a desire to keep them around on this earth for as long as possible. As long as you're not being blame-y, how can this be a bad thing? I mean, it'll probably be really awkward though.
posted by scuza at 5:59 PM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Am I just provoking a fight unnecessarily?

It's possible that no matter what you say, or how you say it, you'll end up with trouble. Either or both of your parents may be either defensive, or deep enough in denial, that things will go very badly. I'm bringing this up because I think it's important to prepare yourself emotionally for their response. They may both think their drinking is perfectly normal; they may each think the other might have a problem. They may (together or singly) admit there's a problem, and even then, there's likely to be a lot of stress related with the recovery process.

I personally don't know how I would have responded to a loved one objecting to my drinking; my hope is that I would have at least have been grateful that they loved me enough to try and help. That being said... the last argument I had with my father was over his drinking-- I had quit drinking, myself, some time earlier, which had caused one fight. This fight came about during a visit, when I refused to get in the car with him after he'd been drinking. If I'd had the option, I wouldn't have had the discussion with him when he was drunk, although the circumstance didn't give me any choice.

However, with regards to your daughter, whatever decision they make, I'm glad your instinct is to protect her from their choices. I don't doubt in the least they love her, but heavy drinking doesn't tend to lend itself to healthy relationships.

I'm sorry as hell you're dealing with this. Best wishes to you and your family.
posted by ElaineMc at 9:00 PM on June 26, 2010

Response by poster: Sorry for not checking in earlier - the amount was close to 3-4 bottles of wine between them in a day, quite a lot when repeated daily. Dad sounds drunk after dinner (in person or on the phone), and I am not sure they stay under the limit while driving. My sister is concerned enough to count drinks.

But I think the "say nothing" folks are on the money. I am not "all-in" on this, I have no interest in an intervention. If this counts as an intervention then I won't do it. Thanks all, I was leaning the other way before I read your input.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:37 PM on June 28, 2010

Wait. No. Am I too late?

Be all in.

It could mean the difference between growing old and having a meaningful experience all the way though one's life versus giving up and basically becoming more and more dead (until one is actually dead) sort of thing.

You love these people. Do intervene. I meant that intervention need not be thought of as a horrendously organized - twenty + people anti-party. It's simply that you address the problem and listen from that point forward. That they are the only ones who can do anything about their addiction/supposed addiction. But do address it. You might regret it if you don't - and the upshot is it might mean a very different life for them going forward (someone caring enought to say something could very well make this possible).

The only thing you have to worry about at that point (after saying someting) is that they do nothing. Okkay. Then you're off the hook.

But, imagine if they respond?
posted by marimeko at 1:14 PM on July 3, 2010

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